A leading UAE employer is prioritising well-being in the workplace with the help of a dedicated mental health team.
Emirates Global Aluminium, one of the UAE’s largest companies with more than 7,000 employees, is offering a support network to ensure staff do not suffer in silence.
In heavy industry dominated by men, there has been a historical reluctance to talk about mental health.
Inspired by the Syrian civil defence volunteers known as the White Helmets, the Aqua Helmets of EGA are providing mental health treatment for those in crisis, or struggling with anxiety.
EGA, which has factories in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has trained nearly 150 mental health first aiders who have offered crucial counselling to more than 300 workers under the initiative. More than 3,200 have participated in wider group outreach sessions held by the company.
Some of the company’s employees have spoken of their experiences to mark World Mental Health Day, observed on October 10 each year, and encourage others to ask for help to overcome mental difficulties, such as depression or anxiety.
“Our mental health first aid is like a normal medical first aider, to support our employees when they are experiencing stress or when they feel like they cannot talk to somebody else, or if they are experiencing some family problems,” said Tersia Corbitt, a trained mental well-being consultant at EGA.
“They can reach out, they will then sit with them and listen.
“It's a role like if somebody would need physical first aid, they will apply mental health first aid in this instance.”
Ms Corbitt enrolled in the “Salama” in-house programme initially to receive support after the death of her brother, who took his own life after a serious bout of depression.
“Needless to say, I was devastated,” she said.
“I couldn’t focus at work. I missed days of work. I started to withdraw from my friends and colleagues.
“I was able to connect with a psychologist and bereavement specialist.
“Slowly but surely, I’m getting back to reaching out to friends and colleagues and to participate more in my life.
“There are still bad days, however I’ve learnt strategies to cope with them better.”
Focus on mental health
Mental health first aid equips individuals and organisations with the skills to identify and assist someone developing a problem or experiencing a crisis.
Ailments can range from panic attacks to depression, general difficulties with expatriate adjustment or the after effects of trauma or bereavement.
It is a recognised form of medical care and was first developed in Australia in 2001 at Melbourne University.
The success of the training has been backed up by science with 16 trials showing the MHFA programme is highly effective in raising the mental health literacy of participants.
LightHouse Arabia, the community mental health and wellness centre in Dubai, is the sole authorised provider for MHFA training in the UAE.
Another to access support is Mohammad Zahiruddin, a general superintendent in refractory services at EGA for 26 years, who lost several family members during the pandemic.
“The course helped me to gain control over my emotions and then manage situations better,” he said.
“It made me understand if I was not strong mentally, I could not handle my family or work situations.
“Within a 10 day period, I lost four people very close to me, thankfully my mother is still alive but she was in shock.
“I was with my wife and children in Dubai, but I could not help my wider family in India.
“The programme was really helpful for this type of situation, to help me process what was happening.”
Anonymous webinars have been delivered for those wanting more information or help with their mental health away from their workplace, while additional training has been given for line managers to spot early signs of mental health issues
To date, EGA has prepared 148 mental health first aiders by enrolling them on a recognised mental health first aid course operated by Lighthouse Arabia.
More than 300 employees have used counselling from these trained individuals, with 3,296 workers attending 89 outreach sessions.
The Salama team visited various departments to raise awareness of the programme and the comprehensive support available to EGA staff.
The support is free and confidential.
“In any other company, mental well-being falls under HR but at EGA it is under the safety umbrella, so it's part of our duties,” said Elizabeth Bredell, a senior manager in safety projects and governance at EGA.
“We have 100-plus mental health first aiders and mental health advocates in the plant that support us when we roll out a programme.
“We have a few of our senior managers and even a director that is at the moment suffering with burnout because of workload.
“EGA recently lost one of its employees on the environmental team – he was a healthy guy running every evening but he collapsed in the park with a heart attack.
“Afterwards, everybody was saying he was overworked, and we should have done something.
“One of our values in safety is to speak up if you see something wrong.
“We can see how many more employees are reaching out now.”