A recently published research paper by NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) on the impact of Covid-19 found that depression and anxiety symptoms were more prevalent among young people and females in the UAE.
The research tallies with World Health Organisation data that says the number of patients in the UAE seeking help for mental health problems increased at least six-fold in three years. Another global study published in The Lancet showed a 28 per cent rise in depression anxiety following the pandemic.
Fortunately, the UAE adopted a national policy for the promotion of mental health in 2017 and has several initiatives to help on a national scale, including a number of support hotlines. But this is a health crisis that must be taken seriously at every level of society.
Employers and institutions must find ways to help their colleagues – for moral and practical reasons. A US study by McKinsey found an astonishing six times as many employers reporting increased mental health issues among employees during the first year of the pandemic, with burnout being among the most common. So how can they best assist?
In my work at NYUAD’s Office of Social Responsibility, we have had the opportunity to develop some useful practices for our contracted staff and domestic workers employed by members of our community. During Covid-19, we partnered with Re:Set, a platform for mental health, well-being, growth and inclusion, to create mental health resources aligned with the needs of our community.
Following consultation with our colleagues, we ensured that our support resources were easily shareable for friends and family here and abroad, using an app that we had developed several years ago that provides a wide range of resources, translated into languages spoken by our colleagues. The comprehensive resources have been tailored to the needs and interests of our colleagues to ensure access for all, these are available in English, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Tagalog, Sinhala, Luganda, and Nepali.
Thanks to regular surveys of our colleagues, we know they want mental health to be included as part of our regular educational offerings. The silver lining to the past three years is that we have noticed the stigma around mental health conversations is starting to gradually shift. The pandemic underscored the importance of mental health and its role in preventative health more generally, and it is imperative that employers take a proactive approach to support the well-being of their employees.
Access to education lies at the core of NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD)’s mission. We also believe in ensuring that all members of our community have a sense of belonging. For this reason we launched our first series of programmes for contracted staff in 2012, with the pilot English in the Workplace course, which has since served over 1,500 contracted and domestic worker colleagues.
Over the past decade, we have expanded our offering to establish a comprehensive Adult Education Programme, which now includes 12 certificate courses in English, Arabic, computer and financial literacy, public speaking, men’s and women’s health, and professional development.
Classes are open to anyone from the university, and most classes are taught voluntarily by our faculty and staff, sometimes by our contracted colleagues. This makes us a far more tight-knit institution and it breaks down barriers that tend to exist in any large organisation.
Our social responsibility programming has helped not just the general well-being of the community but is correlated with the retention and upward mobility of contracted workers. As an example, after discovering her passion for photography through our programming, domestic worker colleague Brenda Belaza co-taught a course for the community on photography and inclusion. The course explored the intersection of inclusion using photography as a tool for visual storytelling. In addition, Ms Belaza delivered a guest lecture to NYUAD students heading to the Philippines on cultural guidelines and helpful phrases in her native language, Tagalog.
Another of our security guards started a non-profit campaign to rebuild the infrastructure of his town in Pakistan. We have had colleagues who have asked if they can take used textbooks to their home countries. We have colleagues teaching professional development and language courses. Initiatives like these have strengthened the fabric of our institution because it helps create dialogue, mutual respect, and unity.
In any well-being or education outreach, our biggest learning is how we think about how to communicate, and whether the terminology translates to different languages and cultures. Are we creating agency for colleagues to let us know what is helpful for them and what they would like to see?
To be truly effective, resources need to be created with our colleagues. This means connecting through vulnerability, leading by example, and making sure that the values of our institution come alive in the work that we do.
A supportive work culture is at the heart of creating a positive, healthy work environment. This is good for the values of an organisation, and it is vital to serving the needs of our wider community in uncertain times.