Dubai dad saved from brink of suicide says 24-hour helpline could save lives

Briton Chris Haill was on the verge of ending his life when the alarm was raised

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Chris Haill, the Briton wo was rescued by police from a suicide attempt in January is speakoing about mental health services in the UAE and why a 24 hour helpline is needed.  Leslie Pableo for The National
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A Dubai dad brought back from the "very edge" of suicide has issued a plea for life-saving support to help people emerge from their darkest hour.

Chris Haill, 53, was preparing to end his own life after a decades-long battle with depression when Dubai Police made a dramatic intervention by battering down the door of the villa he was staying in Al Wasl in January.

Worried members of British Dads in Dubai, a social media support group had raised the alarm when Mr Haill posted a goodbye message online.

He has since undergone weeks of counselling and is now campaigning for a 24-hour telephone support line to help others facing mental turmoil.

A helpline could be life-saving

“I want this issue to be in the public domain, and embraced,” said Mr Haill, who has fought the debilitating effects of daily depression for more than 30 years.

“No one wants to die, but I could not see any other way out.

“I thought everyone would be better off without me, including my 21-year-old son.

“I sent a message saying goodbye and then turned off my phone.”

The last thing the media professional remembers following his attempt to hang himself is being surrounded by police after being resuscitated in his room.

He was transferred to Rashid Hospital on January 2 where he spent several days of recovery.

Mr Haill, who was homeless and dealing with a relationship break-up, praised police who not only saved his life but have since offered daily support.

A national emergency phone line with access to a trained, sympathetic voice could have talked him out of his suicide attempt, he said.

“If I had known there was someone I could speak to on the end of the phone, I may not have made that choice,” he said.

“Not everyone will have insurance to cover mental health support so a helpline could be life-saving.

“I went to the very edge, but because I survived I feel I have to do something positive.”

Mr Haill is in discussion to establish a foundation offering mental health support initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Al Jalila Foundation is building a free mental health support network in the UAE and the police 901 number also provides over-the-phone advice.

ICAS International, part of the global AXA Group, operates a global corporate wellbeing programme in more than 200 countries, including the UAE.

The Dubai service was established a decade ago, and is the only local provider offering employees 24/7 access to counselling in English, Arabic, French, Urdu and Hindi.

Psychologists in Lebanon have developed a crisis support line that has received a glut of calls since launching in 2017.

Experts said the service could be replicated in the UAE, with government support.

The Embrace Lifeline is currently the region’s only national suicide hotline.

“We are seeing many changes in the country in that death by suicide is considered more like any other death and having it more accepted,” said Mia Atoui, a clinical psychologist, who co-founded the non-profit organisation.

“But in small areas and more rural areas, we still have that issue of condemnation and stigma.”

Call numbers in Lebanon are increasing each year, with handlers receiving more than 3,000 calls in 2019, double that of 2018.

Recent tensions in Beirut have ratcheted up demand.

The service currently runs for 17 hours a day, but plans are underway to make it a 24-hour call centre by April.

“We would love to bring the Embrace Lifeline to Dubai,” said Ms Atoui.

“We are ready to meet people in the UAE to discuss how this can be taken forward and what the local needs are.

“We need to engage the government and as many stakeholders as possible.”

In 2018, Dubai Police revealed plans to introduce a support hotline as part of a move to decriminalise failed suicide bids and offer help rather than punishment.

New UAE services announced in January will provide community mental health services to improve social, psychological and occupational empowerment of psychiatric patients.

“The Ministry of Health and Prevention has launched a number of mental health-related initiatives to improve the services of this health sector in line with the unified national mental health policy,” said Dr Hussein Abdel Rahman Al-Rand, undersecretary of the ministry’s health centres, at a recent health forum.

“This will ensure the rights of patients with mental illness, through the implementation of highest international standards and systems.”