Coronavirus: women's helpline set up for Covid-19 specialist support

Mental health professionals on hand to deal with gender specific challenges under Covid-19 pandemic

Women can now access a gender specific national mental health helpline in the UAE. Courtesy: Al Manal Humanitarian Initiative
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Specialist mental health counsellors will offer gender specific support to women affected by the coronavirus pandemic via a new chatline.

The new ReacHer service from Al Manal Humanitarian Initiative is the latest in a growing network of remote support for those in crisis or struggling with anxiety and stress.

Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, said women’s mental health is among the primary foundations for a stable and healthy society.

“This initiative will support any woman in need of guidance during this time,” she said.

“Their mental and emotional well-being is a social and economic priority that falls within the framework of the UAE’s commitment to empower all members of society.”

[Women's] mental and emotional wellbeing is a social and economic priority

Help will be offered through face-to-face video calls and WhatsApp messages from a team of psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists.

The initiative will be carried out over several weeks, in partnership with Dubai Healthcare City Authority.

The project is part of Al Manal Humanitarian Initiative, which has carried out similar philanthropic missions since 2013.

“These efforts have encompassed a wide range of humanitarian causes over the years, resulting in long-term positive impacts on the lives of its beneficiaries,” said Mona Al Marri, who heads the Dubai Women Establishment’s board of directors.

“The ‘ReacHer’ mental health chatline will serve as a platform through which women can seek advice and guidance to overcome challenges presented during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Isolation measures were implemented across the emirates in March to contain the spread of the virus. Restrictions on psychologists offering online mental health services in Dubai were lifted to allow patients to access counselling.

Limits on insurance coverage to pay for remote services were also removed, allowing clinics at Dubai Healthcare City to continue providing essential therapy.

A national hotline was set up to support the mental health of vulnerable people during the outbreak. Manned by the UAE National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing, the hotline has helped people cope with stress, fear and anxiety.

Many women faced greater strain under pandemic restrictions with competing home and work demands, job losses and the extra pressure of home schooling.

In May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet said women were at greater risk of contracting the virus because they were over-represented in the healthcare sector (70 per cent).

She said women in abusive situations worldwide were more exposed to violence during the lockdown, noting the 30 per cent increase in reports of domestic abuse against women in France during the first week of the country’s stay-home order.

Women in the UAE in need of support can contact mental health professionals between 8am and 8pm.

Urgent cases will receive an instant response, those behind the service said.

Booking appointments with mental health practitioners for non-emergency cases can be made via WhatsApp on 050 40582 22, with responses promised within 24 hours.

“We are happy to provide our medical expertise in the field of mental health,” said Jamal Abdul Salam, chief executive of Dubai Healthcare City Authority (DHCA)

“Employing this expertise will serve members of our society by providing women with psychological and social support during these unprecedented times in order to overcome any challenges entailed to the COVID-19 pandemic.”