Chris Haill, 55, tried to take his own life in Dubai on January 2, 2020. But Dubai Police managed to save him in the nick of time. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Remember Chris Haill? The Englishman, who was suffering from severe depression and was rescued from the throes of death by Dubai Police when he tried to take his own life in a Dubai villa on January 2, 2020? Well, it’s been over two years and 10 months since, and the 55 year old is not only a completely changed man, he has also used his second lease of life to make a world of difference around him.

“No one should get to where I got to in 2020. I won’t let that happen,” Haill told Gulf News in an exclusive interview, ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10.

When Haill used a belt that was a birthday gift to try and end his life

“I’ve come a long way since that fateful night,” he said. “I had grappled with depression for over three decades and my life had turned upside down. I had seen it all, been on the streets with no work, no home to call my own. I had relationship issues as well and I couldn’t take the pain anymore. That’s when I tried to end my life with a belt that was a gift I had received on my 30th birthday 23 years earlier.”

NAT 200122 Chris Haill and Vik Vithlani AKK-5-1579700964298
Chris Haill, right, with Vik Vithlani, back in 2020 during an interview with Gulf News Image Credit: Gulf News

But as luck would have it, Dubai Police broke into the villa he was in and stopped him in the nick of time. They had traced his whereabouts from his phone after they were alerted by a Dubai resident, Vik Vithlani, who happened to be a member of a British dads’ Facebook group where an ominous post by Haill that said “Hi Dads…bye Dads” had created a stir. A phone conversation that Vithlani had had with Haill earlier in the day also indicated that Haill was not in the right frame of mind.

“No one wants to die. It’s just that I was in a very bad place in my life at the time,” said Haill, adding, “I can’t thank Dubai Police, Vithlani, members of the Facebook group and others enough for saving my life.”

But just how did Haill manage to pick up the pieces of his shattered life?

“Well, to begin with, the incident shook me,” said Haill, pointing to how he received help from people he hardly knew when he was at the lowest point in his life. “I was rushed to a hospital where I remained in the psychiatric ward for a few days. They made sure I had gathered myself sufficiently before they discharged me. I was also given a place to stay till I could make my own arrangements.”

The sympathy and empathy he received set him thinking. “They (Dubai Police) told me this is Dubai, this is my home. I just felt so overwhelmed and grateful that I genuinely wanted to change for the better and give something back to the society that had provided me a second chance.”

He said just that awareness set things rolling for his healing process. “I began to read more about depression, the professional avenues available to address the issue and above all, the need to fight the stigma against mental health. I realised that it’s okay to feel bad, low when things go wrong. What’s important is to be able to handle the situation and ask for help if need be.”

'I felt like I was reborn'

He said in due course, he travelled to the UK and met with his family members again. “I was seeing my son for the first time in four years. I apologised to everyone that I hurt. It was a very emotional period for me, but very positive and a turning point in my recovery process. I almost felt like I was reborn.”

When Haill returned to Dubai months later, the world was increasingly coming under the grip of COVID-19. “People were grappling with the unknown and their lives were turning topsy-turvy. I knew what that meant because I had already been in a similar place. The urge to reach out to others was stronger now than when I got out of the hospital.”

He said he began to share an honest account of his own struggles on Facebook using the hashtag #justreachout and he received over 250 calls over the next few weeks from complete strangers telling him about their problems. While Haill gave them a patient hearing, he knew he was not professionally equipped to tackle all their concerns.

“You never know what the triggers are for someone who has a mental health problem – it could be anything from the fear of exams, abuse, weight issues, job loss, poor finances, a difficult relationship, loneliness, social media addiction, the list could go on. But not being about to talk about it is a bigger problem. And we want to change that.”

- Chris Haill, Founder, MindForce

That’s when the idea of MindForce was conceived. Haill said he partnered with fellow Briton, Simon Walker, to launch this platform to essentially fight mental health issues with better understanding, education and community support. And the more people he reached out to, the better he felt himself.

“You never know what the triggers are for someone who has a mental health problem – it could be anything from the fear of exams, abuse, weight issues, job loss, poor finances, a difficult relationship, loneliness, social media addiction, the list could go on. But not being able to talk about it is a bigger problem. And we want to change that.”

Dubai Active Industry event

Haill said he no longer feels uncomfortable talking about his situation as it could motivate someone enough to come out of it like he did. Staying physically active also plays an important role in fighting mental health problems, he added. In fact, as part of the Dubai Active Industry, he will be talking about the future of mental health and the wellness movement across the Middle East at the Future Wellness Summit on October 28 and also deliver a talk on October 30 on where the Middle East is poised when it comes to mental health. The two-day event will be held at the Dubai World Trade Centre in Dubai.

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According to Haill, if there was one positive thing that COVID-19 had brought to the fore globally, it was the “Dunkirk spirit” where the collective suffering of people worldwide gave rise to a deep sense of camaraderie and willingness to help amid an unprecedented crisis.

“It’s so important to recognise the signs of sinking, feel the need to rise and ask for help. We at MindForce want to facilitate just that, connect those who are suffering to the right people so they can get the right help,” said Haill.

He said MindForce works with a wide network of experts drawn from relevant government departments and the medical field to ensure that the concerns of those with mental health issues are addressed. “But at the end of the day, you have to want to change and catch the bull by its horns. That’s at the core of the healing process.”

The UAE has launched a toll-free hotline – 800 HOPE (4673) to support people with their mental health. There’s also the Ministry of Health and Prevention’s support line (04 519 2519), SEHA’s Estijaba helpline (8001717); Dubai Police emergency hotline 999; 24-hour walk in at Al Amal Hospital.
Haill said MindForce can be contacted at (#justreachout) or (partnerships).