Saudi support group tackling mental health with compassion

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The Jeddah Support Group provide people a supportive space to share feelings about their struggles with depression or anxiety. (Shutterstock)
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Amer Al-Wafi. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 November 2020

Saudi support group tackling mental health with compassion

  • 'Saudi Arabia needs more support groups for different types of struggles such as domestic violence, bipolar disorders, and more'

JEDDAH: Struggling with depression or any form of anxiety can be overwhelming at times, and seeking therapy is too expensive for some. This is where the role of a community safe space comes in.
In August 2019, 31-year-old Amer Al-Wafi created the Jeddah Support Group (JSG), a nonprofit self-help group — also called peer support group — that is dedicated to providing a supportive, understanding, and accepting safe space for others to share their experiences and feelings regarding their struggles with depression or anxiety.
Al-Wafi said he was motivated to create the group after he needed help and couldn’t find support in Jeddah.
“I needed one. I wasn’t ready to go to a therapist, I just needed a place to talk, where the attention isn’t fully on me, and around people who will understand me, just like the ones I used to see in the movies,” he told Arab News.
The support group is free of charge, and members only need to pay a small fee to the places where live sessions are held.
“I struggled with finding the proper place to hold the meetings. It was important for me to make it affordable to everyone, so I needed a private place that wasn’t expensive either,” Al-Wafi said. He added that the community helps in overcoming depression and other struggles by being supportive, understanding, and accepting.
“When we hear someone’s struggle we truly must listen, show that we care, think before we reply, and choose our words carefully,” he said. “We as a community must invest in being compassionate. We must remember that we will overcome struggle when all of us are holding hands and working together on becoming better.”
Al-Wafi said that the Kingdom needs more support groups for different types of struggles such as domestic violence, bipolar disorders, and more.
“We need a lot, everywhere, that tackles all kinds of problems and struggles. We need support groups for domestic violence, bipolar disorders, single parents, grief, unemployment, and more. There are passionate people out there who are willing to host it, so let’s do it.” He urged people to host sessions in universities, neighborhoods, mosques, hospitals, therapy centers, and even online.
Al-Wafi plans to empower and encourage others to start and host a support group for subjects that they understand the most, and he is ready to make JSG the umbrella of other groups in Jeddah. “I would love to help guide those who are interested to start one and redirect members to the support group that will help them the most,” he said.
Al-Wafi does not have a background in psychology, but reads literature and research in the field and also regularly consults therapists.

‘We need support groups for domestic violence, bipolar disorders, single parents, grief, unemployment, and more.’

Amer Al-Wafi

“That’s the beauty of support groups. Internationally, you don’t need to have a background in psychology to host a support group. But I do my fair share of reading, consulting therapists, and research to increase my knowledge and improve my hosting and discussion skills,” he said.
“The main factor of hosting a support group is that you must be a supportive person who knows how to support others properly.”
All age groups are welcome in JSG, but the group has a disclaimer stating that they cannot help those with high levels of mental distress, which may be associated with psychosis, severe depression, or active posttraumatic stress disorder. “In the disclaimer, we also encourage those with severe cases to seek help from qualified health professionals.”
Munira, who joined the group a year and a half ago, struggled with depression and loneliness after returning to the Kingdom from her scholarship abroad and went to seek therapy. She did not receive the support she was looking for from a therapist.
“Once I finished my scholarship and returned to Jeddah I felt depressed and so lonely. I met a therapist, and she was strange and told me that I am spoiled and I should pray,” she told Arab News.
“I knew about the JSG by chance and since then I was with them. This group is like a home for me. I can express any feelings without a mask and with comfort. It is really something I am so proud to have as a part of my journey with depression.”
Sultan, who has been in the group for a year, said the group helped him gain new perspectives and boosted his self-esteem.
“I was in a dark place and then there was light. The support group helped me understand many things about myself and allowed me the opportunity to see a perspective other than mine.
“It taught me that the right people will love you and that some people won’t like you, no matter how nice you are. And that’s OK.”

 


Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

Nutrition is the most important part when it comes to bodybuilding, then comes type of exercise, and good rest. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

  • Ali Al-Salam, who stopped consuming animal products in 2017, says certain steps must be completed to have an athletic body

JEDDAH: The vegan diet has risen in popularity in Saudi Arabia in recent years and has been a constant topic of debate among Saudis, attracting the interest of many, including athletes.

Ongoing debates about whether the vegan diet is sufficient for normal people, let alone bodybuilders, abound, but one Saudi is answering them physically.
Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.
Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease, but other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.
Speaking to Arab News, 33-year-old Saudi vegan bodybuilder, Ali Al-Salam, who first started his vegan diet three years ago when he was suffering from high blood pressure, highlighted that the consumption of animal products is a deep rooted idea among bodybuilders and athletes.
“We always hear that in order to build muscle, we must consume animal products. In some parts of the world, there are people who can only have a small amount of animal products yet they live their lives healthily and comfortably and are not suffering from malnutrition — on the contrary, they have a lower level of chronic illnesses.”

When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.

Ali Al-Salam, Saudi vegan bodybuilder

He said it also opened his eyes to what goes on in the dairy and meat industry; he began researching in 2016 and decided to become vegan in 2017.
“I was just like every other athlete, I used to consume a high amounts of protein. I remember in the last days before turning vegan, I used to have 10 egg whites and a piece of steak for breakfast to fulfil my protein needs. This made me think, ‘is this the only way to consume protein?’ And from then on, I started researching and got introduced to the vegan diet at a larger scale,” he said.
“When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.”
He explained that bodybuilding does not solely rely on protein, and that there are steps that must be completed in order to reach an athletic body. Nutrition is the most important part, then comes type of exercise, and good rest.
“When we talk about good nutrition, it does not just rely on protein. Yes, it is important, but the amount of calories in general is more important,” he said.
“Let’s say you needed 200 grams of protein, does that mean if you consumed 200 grams of it, you would gain muscle? No. You need all the basic nutrients to reach a certain amount of calories in general,” he added.
He highlighted that as soon as people register for gym memberships, they immediately look for supplements because they think they cannot reach the needed amount of protein.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.

• Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease.

• But other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.

• Vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants.

• Animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.

“I’m talking about non-vegans here too, where their protein intake is already high. Marketing plays a big role here. People link protein to animal products because our society grew up with this idea as well.
“Can a vegan build muscle? Yes, when they eat right, exercise correctly and rest well. The misconception about protein stems from amino acids. People think vegan food lacks amino acids, and only animal products are full of them and that is far from the truth,” he added.
When comparing vegan athletes to regular athletes, he said vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants which helps greatly in recovery, and because “animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.”