British mother aims to boost Abu Dhabi's mental health services

Dani Hakim hopes to expand her Safe Space initiative through government funding from Maan

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , Feb 20  – 2020 :- Left to Right – Dani Hakim and Helen Hope from Safe Space at the Dubai Marina in Dubai. Safe Space provide free community mental health support through events, partnerships and other strategies. (Pawan  Singh / The National) For News. Story by Nick
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A British mother who overcame postnatal depression hopes to gain government funding to expand the mental health service she founded.

Dani Hakim, 36, who has lived in Dubai for 12 years, struggled to find adequate support after the birth of her children, Harvey, 4, and Cleo, 2.

She has applied for financial backing from the Abu Dhabi Authority of Social Contribution, known as Maan, to expand her Safe Space initiative elsewhere in the UAE with co-founders Helen Hope and Leanne Sherlock.

Their project provides support to groups in Dubai and she is keen to roll out the initiative in other emirates.

On average, one in four people will suffer a mental health difficulty at some point during their life

“Safe Space is a free service once a week where professionals offer advice related to mental health,” said Ms Hakim.

“The UAE can be a difficult place to live. People are away from their homes and families and it is that lack of community, added to the pressures of being in this environment, that makes it hard for people to cope.

“It gives people an opportunity to get out of the house and meet new people.”

Ms Hakim described how she found it difficult to access mental health services to help her deal with her own depression and anxiety.

She said that other than visiting a psychiatrist, she had few other options during what was a difficult period of her life.

“There is no real place to access information on mental health support here in the UAE,” she said.

“The healthcare system has not done a good job of signposting where to access therapy to stay mentally well,” she said.

“If someone is pre-diabetic, they can access information on how to manage their weight, or eat healthier and get exercise to improve their situation.

“In the mental health space, there is nothing.”

Ms Hakim said she initially found the legal requirements of setting up a charity or social enterprise daunting.

Abu Dhabi, October, 14 2019: H.E Salama Al Ameemi, Director General Authority for Social Contribution-Ma'an gestures during the interview in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar/ For the National / Story by Daniel Sanderson
Salama Al Ameemi, director general of Maan. Satish Kumar / The National 

Accessing business support and funding from Maan is critical to their plans.

Maan helps to provide financial support for new start-ups, community-based organisations and social enterprises with a focus on mental health projects.

“Mental well-being has become an increasingly important issue around the world,” said Maan director general Salama Al Ameemi.

“On average, one in four people will suffer a mental health difficulty at some point during their life.

“It impacts the way people think, feel, behave and make decisions.

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“Abu Dhabi is no different. It is essential we begin a conversation to understand the support communities need to cope with mental well-being challenges.”

Teachers have regularly attended Safe Space sessions in Dubai, with many revealing their difficulties in coping with heavy workloads.

Chris Haill, 53, a British man who attempted to take his own life in Dubai in January, has also sought the initiative’s assistance.

His story was widely publicised in an effort to improve services for severe depression and develop a 24-hour crisis support line.

“As stories like Chris’s show, mental well-being is a vitally important social issue,” said Ms Al Ameemi.

“If anyone has an idea for a social enterprise or non-profit association that can help people overcome mental well-being challenges, such as a national hotline, we would encourage them to apply.

“Funding from Maan, as well as workspace and business development support, can help make their idea a reality.”

Safe Space sessions take place on Wednesdays from 7pm to 9pm at Tania’s Teahouse on Jumeirah Road in Dubai.

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