Covid-related stress, burnout and anxiety most common complaints to UAE counselling service

Abu Dhabi's Takalam platform says most clients are between 24 and 35

Takalam co-founders Inas Abu Shashieh, left, and Khawla Hammad, at Hub71. Victor Besa / The National
Takalam co-founders Inas Abu Shashieh, left, and Khawla Hammad, at Hub71. Victor Besa / The National

More than 500 residents used an online mental health service in three months to help them deal with stress caused by Covid-19.

Since its launch in March, online counselling platform Takalam has received hundreds of bookings from UAE residents.

Those contacting the service are mostly between the ages of 24 and 35.

Since the pandemic started I began worrying about myself and everyone around me catching the disease

R.M., Takalam patient

“Stress, burnout and anxiety have been the top three [reasons to get in touch] and it makes sense given the situation we are in,” said the founder of Takalam, Khawla Hammad.

“Unpredictability, fear of losing jobs, fear of getting sick and dealing with the loss of a loved one is an issue and then there is the stress and burnouts from dealing with children who are studying online in addition to working remotely,” she said.

Takalam matches people or couples in need of therapy with licensed counsellors. The service was started by Ms Hammad and her co-founder Inas Abu Shashieh.

Since its launch in March, Takalam has counselled about 1,000 UAE residents. Of these, 33 per cent reported having anxiety problems and a further 33 per cent suffered from Covid-related stress.

As the number of people seeking help increases, there is a clear need to expand counselling services Ms Hammad said.

Takalam has received bookings from those suffering mainly from anxiety, stress and burnouts. Getty 
Takalam has received bookings from those suffering mainly from anxiety, stress and burnouts. Getty

Users have the option of one-on-one sessions, for either an hour or 30 minutes, through video, audio or instant messaging. The recommended minimum number of sessions is six.

A recent study of more than 230,000 patients, mostly American, showed that one in three Covid-19 survivors were diagnosed with a brain or psychiatric disorder within six months, suggesting the pandemic could lead to a wave of mental and neurological problems.

More than 12 per cent were receiving a diagnosis of this kind for the first time, a number that doubled if the virus left them in need of intensive care.

“This number is scary and shows that there is more to come. It is important for people to take action and to speak to someone,” Ms Hammad said.

“This will only help us handle this situation better and help us to mitigate matters.

"It is more important for Covid survivors but I wouldn’t minimise it for those who haven’t gotten the disease either because there is still the worry of contracting it.”

Takalam’s users come from different backgrounds and nationalities, including both Emiratis and westerners, and range from employers and employees to housewives.

“This has affected everyone from every nationality. The fear of losing your job is just a small part of it and doesn’t even compare to the fear of losing a loved one and with those who have jobs there are the stresses of balancing work and your home," said Ms Hammad.

"You also have working mothers who are dealing with online schooling and not being able to disconnect from work. Covid has resulted in a big variety of issues that have affected everyone differently. Everyone has been affected,” she said.

Takalam has also recorded an increase in the number employers seeking help for their employees. Around the time of its launch in March last year, only two employers had contacted them for help. Since then, 25 have reached out for assistance.

“Almost every week we get a call from an employer to help support their staff. They are realising the importance of taking care of their employees’ mental health as this reflects positively on the work environment, productivity levels and employee retention.”

Emirati patient RM, 27, who asked to remain anonymous, sought the assistance of Takalam a few months ago.

“I was very anxious about getting Covid,” she said.

“Since the pandemic started I began worrying about myself and everyone around me catching the disease. My heart would begin racing and I would get heart palpitations."

R.M. lives in Abu Dhabi with her parents. As a result of her anxious feelings, she took seven sessions with a counsellor at Takalam.

“I do feel a huge difference and I have advised everyone I know to try this platform. It was convenient because I could take the sessions at home.

"I can’t say that I am no longer anxious about Covid but I have not let it get in the way of me living my life,” she said.

Noha Al Haj, a clinical psychologist with Takalam, said the pandemic disrupted everyone’s daily routine and increased levels of anxiety, stress and obsessive compulsive behaviours.

“I would encourage individuals to ground themselves in the present moment by consciously focusing on their breathing, thoughts, emotions, behaviour and their environmental surroundings. Those who are constantly preoccupied with the future can make a poor choice of actions in the present,” she said.

“Approach psychological difficulties from a curious and non-judgemental point of view instead of a punitive way.

“Individuals should also surround themselves with positive and supportive people. In the absence of a support system, individuals’ well-being can be affected.”

Updated: June 8, 2021 07:17 PM

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