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Wed 9 Sep 2020 09:24 AM

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Expat champions mental health awareness after Dubai dads group 'saved his life'

Chris Haill attempted suicide earlier this year but was saved after Facebook group rallied to his rescue. Now he wants people to talk more about mental health issues

Expat champions mental health awareness after Dubai dads group 'saved his life'

Chris Haill, from London, moved to Dubai in 2013. Below, he is pictured with Vik Vathlani who called the police that day.

An expat from the UK, whose life was saved after posting a message on Facebook group British Dads Dubai, has spoken of the need for people to talk more about mental health issues, particularly during the current coronavirus crisis.

Chris Haill, from London, moved to Dubai in 2013, but a combination of depression and mental health problems, which he had experienced many years previous while living in England, saw his life slowly unravel and spiral out of control.

“The one thing about depression is you always think the next day you’ll wake up and everything will be alright and it isn’t, it just gets progressively worse,” he told Arabian Business.

Despite suffering a death in the family and divorce from his wife in the early 2000s, helped by a combination of alcohol and drugs, he was always considered very much happy-go-lucky, someone who was always there for others.

However, he admitted that was merely an act. He said: “It was really just, I call it the Ready Brek scenario, because I had that sort of aura around me which was fake because when I got home, or when I was on my own, it went back to a lot of problems.”

In 2007, during a period in his life which he described as being in a “terrible state”, he first tried to commit suicide, through a combination of alcohol and pills. “I didn’t really understand what I was doing,” he said.

Chris worked on the commercial side of the media industry for over 30 years, in his native London and during a three-year spell in Glasgow, all the while fighting the demons, which professionals have since discovered, had been with him since his early teenage years.

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These followed his to Dubai seven years ago and, despite finding work and love, ultimately saw him hit rock bottom.

He explained: “I was in a relationship over here with a young lady for a few years. Very much in love. But I lied to her. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t get up or go to work. I couldn’t do anything and my weight was going up and down. My sleep patterns. I was waking up in the middle of the night and going for a walk, wondering what I was doing.

“I just had no idea how to function because I was ill with depression and mental health.

“I was lying to her and people because I just didn’t want them to know how bad I was. I didn’t want to involve them. I didn’t want to hurt them.”

Ultimately it proved too much for his partner and they split up, leaving Chris homeless. He revealed it was with his last dirhams, drinking a McDonalds’ coffee and donut deal for AED5, that he first reached out to the British Dads social media group.

“I said I needed somewhere to live because I was living rough and a British dad came forward and said ‘you’re coming to live with me’. I didn’t know this guy. The fact that he came from London, that was about it.

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“I got in a cab and I stayed with him and his wife for three months, and felt very safe for three months. Still very ill and still couldn’t work. I was trying to get myself better, but I just couldn’t do anything. I was just very out of it.”

These feeling manifested further when he moved into shared accommodation and, with the added strain of the festive period and new year alone, things reached a critical, and dangerous, head.

Recounting the story, he said: “On January 2 I decided that was it. I’d spoken to a British dad that afternoon and he was going to lend me some money. I didn’t want to loan money so I spoke to him and said ‘thanks, bye’.

“I put the phone down and he knew there was something wrong with me. Then I posted about 6pm, ‘Hi dads, bye dads’ on the British Dads Dubai Facebook page and I shut down. I closed off my computers, my phones, turned off all the wifi and I was planning to do what I was going to do. I knew what I was going to do, I was going to hang myself. I was completely sober. I knew exactly what I was doing. I had no qualms about doing it.”

However, that message on the Facebook group would ultimately save his life as a rescue mission was coordinated among its members to find him. The police were contacted and, ultimately, Chris was saved.

But he knows it could’ve been so different. He said: “This group will help anyone. What they did for me is, they saved my life. If the one British dad hadn’t phoned the police, I wouldn’t have been found.

“One particular group member, who shall remain nameless, helped me find a new flat, paid for me to fly back to the UK to reconnect with my son and mother and tell them exactly what had happened. To this day that man remains a mentor, and more importantly a good friend.”

Chris has since told his story over social media and through various media outlets and has become something of an ambassador, championing the cause for mental health and encouraging others who are experiencing difficulties, through the hashtag justreachout, to speak out and share with others.

“It is exactly what you need to do,” he said. “You just need to reach out and you need to talk to people. And that’s the worst thing that we just don’t do, especially men. The higher percentage of people suffering from mental health and depression is men, because they just don’t talk. They’re too stubborn.”

The issues have been exacerbated with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with stress and anxiety caused by finances and redundancies, working from home, distance learning for students and the general fear and worry caused by Covid-19.

Chris has urged everyone to play a part in helping others and keeping an eye on the key triggers. He said: “The one thing I’d say, and this is what I’ve said on any posts or interviews I’ve done, is that if you’re suffering from something, there is no shame in saying ‘I feel bad’.

“If people suffer from something for probably one or two months, if you can see a difference in somebody’s personality in terms of their actions, if they’re not going into work; if you’ve got workmates that are like that, these people are suffering in some way and there’s got to be a reason for it.

“This can include uncontrollable emotions, changes in weight for no reason, risky behaviour (particularly among men), feeling anxious and not wanting to meet other people, losing interest in previous likes and hobbies, and a general feeling of hopelessness.”

Anyone suffering difficulties can contact a WhatsApp support line 8004673, which is available from 8am to 8pm; or contact Al Amal Psychiatric Hospital in Dubai on 04 519 2500.

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