Hasina, a mother of four, was completely distraught. Life was taking more than its toll and she was at breakdown point. In her moment of despair, it seemed like taking her life would be the only way out. Thankfully though, she decided to make one last attempt to get help and dialled the number of a local organisation that is reputed for its reliable counselling. The result? Thanks to the good counsel she received, Hasina is alive today and getting the help she needs.
Hasina’s name is fictional but her story is not; her help came in the form of a Doha-based organisation known as The Mental Health Friends Association “Weyak”. The charity is gaining popularity for its services in helping those suffering from various forms of mental illnesses in Qatar.
Like Hasina, Sarah is a young girl who has been suffering from severe depression. Although she lives in Qatar, Sarah would make long distance calls to London to receive counselling for her condition. On hearing about Weyak, she began seeking help from the counsellors at Weyak and today she has been able to effectively fight her problem.
Sarah and Hasina are among several individuals who suffer from depression or some form of behavioural health issues and whose lives have been changed for the better, as the result of the counselling and help they receive through Weyak.
Established as a non-profit association, Weyak provides free support to people in need of mental health services through specialised programmes. Besides providing support to those in need of help, the organisation also strives to raise awareness within the community on the importance of mental health. In working towards this goal, Weyak conducts various programmes to encourage people to make lifestyle changes. It also seeks to promote a positive outlook while persuading individuals to look beyond their limitations and circumstances, to adopt a lifestyle where their potential can be realised and their dreams pursued.
In an interview with Community, Mohamed al-Binali, Executive Director of Weyak, spoke on the role of Weyak and the challenges it faces.
Samira Mohamed Barre Abdullah, Public Relation Specialist at Weyak, helped with translation.

Tell us something about Weyak.
One of the pillars of Qatar’s national mental health strategy is to raise public awareness on mental health and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
Weyak means ‘with you’. Founded in 2012 as a national voluntary association based in Doha, the association was officially launched in July 2014.
In working towards Qatar’s vision for mental health, our mission at Weyak is to raise awareness in society through community activities, training programmes, and conferences. We also provide psychological counselling services that support people dealing with mental illness, while promoting studies and research on mental health. Our work involves engaging closely with local stakeholders and relevant authorities and utilising local expertise and media to achieve our goals of making mental health an issue that becomes an integral part of healthcare in Qatar. I’m happy to say Weyak has managed to achieve credible results, over the years.

What is the inspiration behind Weyak?
Research has shown that 1 out of every 3 or 4 individuals suffers from some form of mental illness, the world over. Qatar too has its fair share of individuals who face problems in this area. The situation cannot be ignored; if neglected, it will cause the breakdown of the family and thus the entire society, eventually leading to greater repercussions and costs, to both families and the government.

Tell us about some of the work carried out by Weyak.
We have taken a multi-pronged approach in working towards spreading awareness within the society on matters of mental health, while helping reduce stigma. We publish information on the subject regularly, screen relevant films, conduct lectures and workshops, and also advocate our cause through social media.
In addition we encourage people to seek help rather than hide from mental illness.
Our services include assistance through online counselling, phone counselling, and outreach activities conducted in institutions. We also conduct social and community events. In addition media campaigns are conducted on TV and the radio.
When people wish to avail of our online counselling service, they can post their questions on our website or contact us through our mobile app; these questions and problems are then reviewed and answered by qualified specialists.
While offering counselling and other supporting services, we always ensure the person’s privacy is protected. Our assistance is not limited to those suffering from the illness but is also extended to the caregivers of those affected by the condition.

Based on your experience, what are some of the major mental illnesses that you see in Qatar?
Like anywhere else in the world, in Qatar too we see people suffering from various conditions associated with mental illnesses. However, we have noticed that anxiety and depression rank higher than other problems. Feedback received from our counselling sessions has shown that family problems and domestic issues contribute significantly towards this situation.

What are some of the challenges you face when working with people living with mental health issues and their families?
Stigma and shame associated with mental illness is very high, leading to denial of the condition or the hesitation to seek timely help.
For instance, we always advise the entire family to attend our therapy sessions as they play a significant role in the recovery process of the suffering individual. However, ignorance of the issue and denial of the condition, bring about a situation where families do not often take our family therapy sessions seriously. They are also usually not committed to the long-term therapy that is often required.

Prejudice and bias associated with mental illness is a global problem. How do you help people overcome this and seek help?
Stigma can only be overcome by educating the public. That is why it is important to work towards increasing awareness in society through every channel possible; media plays a major role in this area.
At Weyak we value the confidentiality and privacy of the individual. People who contact us through our phone or online counselling services are offered help without any fee, regardless of who they are. Those seeking help are not required to identify themselves. This anonymity is maintained to encourage people to approach us for help.
It is important that the society is educated on the subject of mental health, as this is the only way the public learns to empathise with those suffering from problems and become supportive of their issues. It is also important to extend support to the caregivers and family members of those dealing with the problem.

Tell us about one of your programmes aimed at increasing awareness within the community on this important issue?
The campaign “Kilna Weyak” which translates into “All of us are with you” is one of our programmes that has made significant impact. It was supported by leading public figures in Qatar including celebrated sportsmen, prominent writers, businessmen, and social media influencers. The campaign targeted society as a whole through various events we conducted and it included strong media campaign. Social media was also effectively used to break the stigma surrounding mental health. Through this campaign we also encouraged discussion surrounding mental health.

From where does Weyak get its support?
We are a charitable association, and our support comes from various organisations. As we work on different projects, the funding is based on the project being carried out. Local Qatari NGOs including Qatar Charity, Jassim and Hamad Bin Jassim Charitable Foundation, and RAF are among those who support us.
We cannot achieve our goals without the help of our volunteers. We have professionals and experts working in the area of mental health who are willing to volunteer their services and provide counselling to both: the individuals suffering from mental illness as well as their families.
Anything else you would like to add.
One of the challenges we face is that sponsors and organisations that offer us funds often impose restrictions and conditions with the expectation of immediate results. I would like to request individuals, institutions and organisations to come forward and support our projects without seeking immediate or short-term results. It is important to bear in mind that any worthwhile result achieved as the result of working towards educating a society on the importance of mental health, or helping a person suffering from a mental illness cannot be measured in a short period of time. Tangible results in this area take time to bear fruit.

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