Mrs. Sandra Salame
Sandra Salame, a mother of 3 and an experienced technology executive with a 20-year career in the IT industry, she is bringing innovation and expertise to the field of mental well-being.
With a background in computer and communication engineering and a successful track record of establishing and managing a cybersecurity company, Sandra is now on a mission to transform the way we approach mental health. Her passion for the subject has led her to found Siira, a platform dedicated to providing accessible and effective mental health services to individuals in need.
In a region where mental health stigma persists, Siira is breaking down barriers and creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for those struggling with everyday challenges.
Breaking taboos: A new approach to mental health in the MENA region
In the past 5 years, Lebanon has suffered multiple social, economic, and financial crises – from the financial collapse in 2019, to COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing, to the Beirut Port Blast in 2020. This has left the Lebanese population facing the repercussions of multiple traumas, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma symptomatology. Moreover, this is occurring in the context where individuals have decreased accessibility to basic health and mental support – due to material losses in healthcare centers services, difficulties with transportation, as well as increased immigration of healthcare professionals. In addition, Lebanese scholars have identified a monopoly of mental health professionals based in the capital, and a lack of funding to sustain programs in remote areas. The cumulative trauma points to an urgency of setting up more initiatives to provide telemental health services.
This presentation aims to introduce an innovative approach to telemental health service delivery, taking into consideration the many barriers that could halt the use of such services in Lebanon and the wider Arab region. Such barriers encompass stigma in discussing mental health difficulties, misinformation in terms of the efficacy of online approaches, difficulty in building rapport, internet connectivity, and electricity problems.
Siira, meaning “life journey” in Arabic, argues for a comprehensive approach to prevention and to promoting wellbeing. The focus of our model is on the democratization of mental health education. We propose a circular model whereby people have access to live and asynchronous sessions led by mental health professionals discussing topics around the themes of the individual, parenting, couples, and work-related issues. People can also attend support groups whereby they can gain more hands-on experience and tools to overcome some difficulties, and they can virtually attend 1:1 anonymous and confidential discussions with a professional to achieve more tailored strategies. The loop is closed as these various activities help people better understand their actions and reactions, encouraging them to therefore utilize our other resources, tackling related topics.
Through this talk, we will be presenting the results of the one-year pilot of our model and online platform. Findings are promising as users have reported finding the service to be efficient and highly satisfactory. These findings provide a stepping-stone toward our expansion to the wider community as well as the corporate world, building tailored programs based on the results of our pilot.