The UAE has made massive strides when it comes to mental wellbeing. You only have to look at the 2016 launch of the Ministry of Happiness to see how seriously the country takes the subject. And while things have generally been a bit slower in the corporate space, there’s evidence that attitudes and approaches to mental wellbeing are changing there too.
In part that can be attributed to increased awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing and in part it’s because of an increased availability of resources.
One of the best examples of the quality of mental wellness resources available is The Lighthouse Center For Wellbeing.
Founded in 2011 and based in Dubai, the center offers a number of services for individuals and corporates alike.
In order to get a clearer idea of what the latter entails, we spoke to center co-founder and clinical psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi.
We also touched on the evolving nature of mental wellbeing in the workplace and what conditions corporates should be on the lookout for.
Engage Me: How has The Lighthouse’s corporate practice developed in terms of the services offered?
Dr Saliha Afridi: Initially, our Corporate and Workplace Services practice focused on offering psycho-education services – talks, seminars, and workshops – on workplace effectiveness and wellbeing topics that were of special relevance to the corporate setting such as managing stress, conflict resolution and improving interpersonal relationships, workplace diversity, coping with change, and assertiveness training, to name a few. We also offered Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) services to help companies who experienced serious incidents – such as death or major accidents – manage the potential traumatic impact on their employees.
We then started offering more intensive capability building and certified training services such as the Mindful Living Course and Mental Health First Aid Certification to companies who wanted to build deeper internal capabilities among their staff members.
We also offer individual Transformational Counseling services to executives and people working in professional services companies who want to address deeper psychosocial issues that may be getting in the way of their professional growth and performance.
EM: What are some of the most common issues you see among corporate workers who come into The Lighthouse?
Dr SA: Some of the most common issues we see are: poorly managed stress that has begun to impair people’s performance at work and their personal health, interpersonal challenges that are disrupting teamwork and relationships with colleagues, inability to internalize and respond to performance feedback they have received at work and the effect that has on their career advancement, and different variations and combinations of the above.
EM: What kind of pick-up has The Lighthouse had with its corporate services?
Dr SA: We are seeing a steady pickup in demand for our corporate and work place services. This is the result of an increasing recognition in the corporate world globally of the importance of mental health and wellbeing to employee performance and satisfaction, and it also comes as a response to our and other mental health professionals’ efforts to raise awareness about these issues in the workplace locally.
We find that whenever we talk about the link between mental/emotional wellbeing and work effectiveness/satisfaction, and we share the wealth of scientific evidence and real-life experience that backs it up, people readily recognize the connection and are actually relieved to finally realize that there is something they can do to shift a vicious cycle into a virtuous one. This is of immense importance both to individuals and their employers.
EM: Are companies waking up to the idea that their employees’ mental health is as important as their physical health?
Dr SA: Certainly, and we see that in the increasing number of companies who approach us to help them design and deliver corporate wellness events and programs, and in the rising levels of ambition those companies have for what they want to achieve in this area – deep, lasting metal wellbeing improvements that have significant, positive impact for the individual and the company.
EM: How much of a role does corporate mental wellbeing play in preventing more serious mental conditions developing?
Dr SA: We believe that HR heads and management need to have a raised awareness of the signs and symptoms of more serious conditions so they can be flagged earlier and dealt with before they get worse.
Having people in companies that are equipped with Mental Health First Aid would allow trained individuals to be able to flag signs of depression, anxiety and other difficulties early on. Conducting regular mental wellbeing checks on premises, where individuals take 30 mins to speak to a clinical psychologist about their life to flag issues that might become problematic is also something companies have started doing.
Companies can take a preventative approach to mental health difficulties. This can come in the form of awareness building through psychoeducation, talks on wellbeing, as well as having companywide wellbeing programs that focus on overall wellbeing and building resilience – i.e. Mindfulness training, Mindfulness circles, Meditation rooms, Sleep pods and Health programs that focus on physical and mental health via various events throughout the month.
We have consulted with many companies creating initiatives and programs to promote mental health in the workplace.
It is important for companies to start talking about mental wellbeing to help destigmatize and normalize mental health— as it is still a subject most people find difficult (and often shameful) to address.
EM: The Lighthouse has an interesting take on executive coaching. Tell us more about it.
Dr SA: What we offer is Transformational Counseling. While Transformational Counseling provides immense help to executives and other professionals to improve their work performance and satisfaction, it is distinct from executive coaching in two important ways: first, it addresses deeper psychosocial issues that can become barriers to professional growth and performance, and second, it is provided by clinically trained psychologists that are specifically equipped to deal with those more challenging issues. This process facilitates deeper awareness and insight, and stronger commitment and alignment of action than coaching, or coaching alone, can achieve.
EM: What are some of the biggest benefits of this approach?
Dr SA: The biggest benefit of Transformation Counseling is a faster, surer path to more productive behaviors and habits, higher congruence with values, closer relationships with clients and colleagues, and ultimately greater professional impact and personal satisfaction.