24-year-old activist leads advocacy on mental health

Dubai, UAE: Ally Salama has many firsts to his name. He was the first Egyptian male youth speaker on mental health at the United Nations. He has built a #1 trending podcast across six countries, and his online magazine EMPWR Mag was among Harvard’s Top 7 Most Impactful Social Initiatives, in 2019. 

But Ally’s most significant achievement is empowering honest and compassionate dialogue around mental health, as a spokesperson and activist.

An ex-pro athlete, a social entrepreneur, and a mental-health ambassador, Ally Salama is using his own experience with clinical depression to help others. With the intent to create a cultural shift and make mental health part of the conversation in every household across MENA, he is creating an ecosystem that fosters trust and hope.       

“My goal is to open minds and create change. Although many people today understand that mental illness is a medical condition, there are still many stigmatizing misconceptions and stereotypes at large,” he said. 

“But the only way forward is to increase awareness, empathy, and compassion for those afflicted. Which is why I created EMPWR. I want everyone to know they are not alone on this journey, and that together, we can instill a renewed positivity among those that have been suffering silently. A supportive and understanding attitude has the power to create compassionate communities that remove the stigma from mental illness and give hope to those who need it most,” added Ally.

In 2019, Ally took to the podium at the World Health Organization (WHO), where he shared his life experience, as well as his journey to help those with mental disabilities overcome the stigma associated with the condition. “Too often, people with mental illness feel trapped, isolated, and discriminated against, because their condition is misunderstood,” he says.

Ally is keen to establish that anyone can be susceptible to mental distress, often despite their perceived success – from an aspiring athlete to an innovative entrepreneur. He points out that for those in highly competitive environments – such as sports, entrepreneurship, and leadership roles – it can become doubly difficult to accept and acknowledge mental health issues.

Research indicates that youth and adults alike find qualified help difficult to access in the Arab world, when it comes to mental health. Focusing on the intersection between mental health, empathy in leadership, and building emotional intelligence, Ally is particularly proactive in engaging with youth and entrepreneurs. Ally is now also partnering with several foundations and charities, and speaking at schools, institutions, and workplaces, to help kickstart the discussion around mental health and wellbeing.


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