UAE 'urgently needs crisis helplines' for teenagers struggling with mental health

Last week, a 16-year-old girl was believed to have killed herself in Al Rawda

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, November 29, 2016:    Ross Barfoot founder of the Louis Smith Foundation in honor of his 15 year-old son Louis Smith, who took his own life in 2013 in the Tourist Club area of Abu Dhabi on November 29, 2016. Christopher Pike / The National

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The UAE desperately needs crisis helplines to support teens who are suffering from mental health issues, says the father of a child who took his own life.

Ross Barfoot co-founded the Louis Smith Foundation to help support teenagers struggling with mental health issues after his teenage son Louis took his life in 2013. He has been trying to set up a helpline to provide a safe space for teens to talk to someone away from their immediate circle.

"Setting up a crisis helpline in the UAE and in the wider region is one of our main objectives," said Mr Barfoot. "In the US, UK or India there are anonymous services where someone listens and supports. That is something we definitely need in the UAE."

Last week, a 16-year-old girl was believed to have killed herself in Al Rawda, prompting warnings from police that parents need to be aware of their children's mental health; however,

Many teens, however, are uncomfortable speaking to their families about their problems.

“Some of the people who have reached out to us are reluctant to talk to their parents and we always encourage them to talk to their guardians,” Mr Barfoot said. “From our own experience, Louis didn’t confide in us.”

But there are many hurdles to starting a crisis line.

“One of them is making sure that the people who speak to these children are protected by the law,” Mr Barfoot said. “We want to start lobbying to see what we can do around the treatment of suicide, and lay the groundwork for regulations.”

There are no such helplines in the UAE, but a 2013 study revealed that depression affects nearly one in five teenagers in Dubai.

In the US, each state has a helpline teens can call if they are feeling low and unable to tell anyone. They are immediately connected to a counsellor. There are also text helplines for those who do not want to speak directly to anyone on the phone.


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If the UAE did launch such a hotline Kara Haines, middle school counsellor at Universal American School, said: : "They would be surprised to find out the true number of people who are suffering from serious levels of depression.

“The most important thing parents can do in the evenings is to put away their phone and talk to children about their day and their lives. Know who their friends are and be open to listening to their stories.”

Carolyn Yaffe, a cognitive behavioural therapist at Camali Clinic in Dubai, believes that crisis helplines "would be amazing as a lot of teenagers feel like they don't have anyone to talk to. They feel isolated".

Mr Barfoot said: "The flip side of this is that parents have to take what their children say seriously. We want to educate parents on how to deal with it if your child comes and tells you they are unhappy.

“You need to take it seriously and spend time talking to them and talking about the support you can provide for them.”

The Louis Smith Foundation aims to raise awareness of mental health issues among young adults and parents, and works to counter the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety.