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Photo by Tom Abi Samra

With Hope: Mental Health at NYUAD and the UAE

A profile on the With Hope Organization, mental health on campus and in the UAE.

Dec 2, 2018

On Nov. 20, NYU Abu Dhabi hosted the With Hope Organization for an event centered around mental health advocacy and awareness in the UAE. The goal of the event was to shine a light on these issues and facilitate conversations between NYU Abu Dhabi students, members of the organization and other professionals from the field to shine a light on this issue. The event was marked by various red balloons placed across campus to represent support and awareness of the mental health needs of others.
With Hope is a non-governmental organization started by Emirati youths that tackles mental health issues in the UAE and the stigma surrounding mental health in the country. The organization runs various campaigns under different themes, like their recent My Mind Matters campaign, and organizes events and initiatives in universities across the UAE to promote mental health awareness. Maitha Alsuwaidi, Class of 2021, and Sarah Alkaabi, Class of 2020, organized the With Hope event on campus and agree that there is a strong stigma around mental health in the UAE.
“There’s this stigma in the UAE … that usually a lot of people think that when someone is feeling depressed, or someone has anxiety, or has a mental health problem, the solution to that is just to read the Quran or to pray more … I feel like that could be true … but it’s not the only way to deal with a mental health issue … It might work for some people, it might not work for some people,” said Alkaabi.
“In a community of young people, you’d think that sort of stigma towards mental health is fading away or it’s kinda not as strong as outside of universities, but still people are having a hard time being public about it,” added Alsuwaidi.
Dr. Mladina Vedrana, Licensed Clinical and Health Psychologist at NYUAD, recognized the issue of stigma within her work here at NYUAD as well as the lack of resources dedicated to mental health in the UAE.
“UAE is quite representative of how mental health is being handled anywhere else in the world. The challenge here is that there is a lot of stigma culturally and because it’s a young country, these things are still being developed, so the infrastructure when it comes to mental health itself is still in development. The fact that there is only one psychiatric hospital here in the capital, only one place where people can go when they need hospitalization, is of course challenging,” said Vedrana.
In comparison, mental health awareness and aid have both been largely advocated for and available in the university. With clinically licensed professionals, the Wellness Exchange and student-based initiatives such as REACH, NYUAD offers students various resources pertaining to mental health.
“The services we offer on campus are in, my mind, really absolutely comprehensive and I think we have a very good system in place,” said Vedrana. “Of course, every system is limited as to how much it can do for the population but I think that the system that is there with Wellness Exchange as a backup, with staff on campus that is highly qualified, with that presence and constant reminders that mental health is important, I think we’re quite good.”
According to Vedrana, the Health and Wellness Center strives to dispel the stigma around mental health, which provides a more holistic approach to health on campus.
“I think we are quite good at destigmatizing it at the university, and kind of normalizing it by offering services, by having services embedded in the primary care, kind of not making it as an extraordinary thing. We don’t have clinical thresholds, that means anybody can come to counseling for any kind of issue, so they don’t separate or select cases.”
Currently, NYUAD is interviewing two candidates for clinical psychologist positions and a dietitian in the Health and Wellness Center. However, their starting date remains unclear due to the administrative obligations and procedures that need to take place before their employment can be confirmed.
In the UAE, there has been a recognizable shift in attitudes toward mental health in recent years, as well as in legislation pertaining to the issue. One example is the recent introduction of a bullying hotline by the Ministry of the Interior. In this time of changing attitudes and perceptions, Alsuwaidi sees NGOs such as With Hope as imperative to a smooth transition.
“I think it’s changing, but I think it’s changing very slowly and the NGO’s role is very important in helping with that,” said Alsuwaidi.
“There is a growing understanding and acceptance that we see both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” said Vedrana on the topic. “I’m optimistic when I see NGOs like With Hope...I’m hoping the legislation will also change because when that changes then more doors open, more money is invested, et cetera.”
More collaborative events between With Hope and NYUAD may be in the works for the future to promote mental health advocacy on campus further and to continue important conversations on the topic.
“Overall, I think the event was a huge success, a lot of people attended and were eager to listen and there was a lot of input from the audience...and that’s exactly what we wanted,” said Alkaabi. “We wanted people to open up, we wanted people to start a conversation on mental health … we achieved our goal and I think a lot of people benefitted from it as well.”
Tracy Vavrova is News Editor. Email her at
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