Dealing with a broken bone or a severe headache can be a simple process for most people. Make an appointment with a doctor and visit them, use your insurance to pay for it, and you’re on the mend.
But what happens when your mental health has been suffering? What happens when your insurance doesn’t always cover therapy, or it’s only covered by a small amount? Lebanese-Canadian filmmaker and mental health advocate Diane Farah didn’t want to leave those questions unanswered.
The 34-year-old, who was deeply moved by the Beirut blast in August 2020, wanted to offer a solution in the form of an online platform that helps clients connect with low-cost therapy options. She talked to Gulf News about her initiative ‘Ask Me How I’m Really Doing’ and how she’s hoping to promote better mental health.
Why did you start the platform?
I started the platform as a response to the difficult year we were all having in 2020, feeling isolated and struggling with so much uncertainty. The importance of mental health became amplified, even to those who had not given it much thought before. The Beirut blast last August was definitely an additional push to put the plan into action — being far away from my friends and family was rough, knowing they were going through so much. I tried to find as many resources for mental health support as I could to share with those in need, which made me realise that they were few and far in between in our part of the world — in addition to the fact that getting help is largely shrouded in secrecy and stigma. I wanted to do my part to help change that.
I’ve always been passionate about social issues as well as community initiatives so I took the plunge and started ‘Ask Me How I’m Really Doing’ as a space to encourage discussion, create uplifting and thought provoking content as well as share free and low-cost resources to anyone who may need them. Once it became clear that people were struggling to find affordable help, the low-cost therapy initiative soon followed.
Tell me more about the low-cost therapy initiative.
A month ago, we launched a partnership with three Arab-based therapy platforms offering low-cost therapy which we’ve facilitated with the use of our community code. Thirteen therapists have joined our efforts so far and more are in the process of being added. The rates start at just Dh110 per session and are capped at Dh255 for what are traditionally Dh500+ sessions. The aim is to make therapy more affordable and attainable to anyone, regardless of their financial means. The sessions are also held online, which makes it that much easier to get the help you need from the comfort of your home.
What are the biggest challenges people face while seeking therapy?
I’d say there are a few challenges that come into play when it comes to seeking help. The most important of which are cost as well as stigma associated with speaking to a professional. Sessions at Dh500+ are definitely not sustainable to those who cannot afford them, especially if they’d like to continue sessions long term, as therapy is not a one time thing kind of process.
What do you hope the platform can achieve?
I hope the platform can help bring comfort to those who make use of it, whether it’s scrolling through the Instagram page looking for general support or whether it’s taking a more serious step in getting the help needed by signing up to the sessions with one of the qualified therapists we’ve partnered with. I also hope it can help normalise the conversation around mental health and make it a little less daunting to take that first step in seeking help, as that’s always the hardest part. We are also hoping that having therapists from a similar culture and background to our community members will make them feel more comfortable sharing their struggles with someone who understands and relates to their environment.
Have you faced any challenges developing this platform?
I run this platform on a completely volunteer basis at the moment with the help of a few friends and activists, which means it’s sometimes hard to find the time to keep creating content as well as do all of the necessary admin work to run the initiative in our spare time, so that would be the main challenge we are facing so far. It’s also entirely self funded at the moment — though we hope to soon start a social enterprise to help sustain our efforts to make sure we are around long term.
Do you have a personal experience seeking therapy? If yes, what was it like going the conventional route?
I went through a rough patch in 2019 and turned to therapy to help me cope with the situation I was facing back then. I quickly discovered how unsustainable paying Dh500 per session was and how much weight it was adding to my already troubled mental state, as I now had to account for thousands of dirhams in bills to speak to a licensed professional that could help me navigate the difficulties. Regardless, I did find much comfort in seeking help which is how I discovered first hand how grounding and transformative therapy can be.
What has the feedback been for your platform?
The feedback has been amazing so far and so many people have helped us spread the word on social media as well as in the press. We’ve been fortunate enough to be featured in several publications as well as on the radio and we’ve grown at a fast rate in the eight months we’ve been online. I think people are recognising the need for such a platform and several of our followers have already taken the plunge and made use of our code to avail the therapy discount, which is wonderful to see.
Is there a hesitation among Arabs/Asians to seek therapy? Why?
There is a stigma attached to seeking help worldwide but even more so in our part of the world. We are conditioned to thinking that getting help is a sign of weakness, an indication that we cannot manage our own lives. We’re made to feel inferior which can be very detrimental if we’re already struggling. It’s also still frowned upon socially, which means those suffering end up doing so in silence, making it infinitely harder to cope.
We are hoping to help break this stigma and to make getting help much easier than it has been. If you’re not feeling well physically, you’re encouraged to go to the doctor to get treatment and medication, so why should mental health be regarded any differently?
How can people use your website to find options for themselves?
Users can visit our website at www.askmehowimreallydoing.com and browse through our partnering platforms as well as participating therapists to learn more about each of their credentials, their expertise, specific details about them such as their location and the languages they speak (all of our therapists speak English and Arabic at the very least). They can also browse the different rates offered as well as the ways to avail our initiative discount code and from there they can proceed to signing up with the platform of their choice. Seeking help has never been easier or more accessible so we encourage everyone to make use of this service if they feel the need to. We also invite everyone to join our Instagram community to be part of the conversation, take part of our efforts if they’d like to as well as stay updated with our growth!
Other affordable mental health support options:
- Lighthouse Arabia in Dubai hosts a number of free online sessions for people who are grieving, those who have lost jobs, people facing infertility and more.
- Fitcy Health, an online platform, offers package deals on therapists and life coaches, costing Dh900 per month for three video sessions and unlimited messaging.
- Mindful ME, run by long-time Dubai resident Helen Williams, offers 60-minute Mindful Living online workshops that clients can choose how much to pay for (minimum amount is Dh50).
Disclaimer: The views expressed here must not be used as medical advice. For treatment, consult with a doctor or mental health expert. In cases of emergencies, please contact 999.