Home Support system Lebanese mental wellness initiative Siira creates spaces to talk

Lebanese mental wellness initiative Siira creates spaces to talk


In Lebanon, where the dual crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic and the financial meltdown are disrupting everyday life, mental well-being start-up Siira seeks to provide emotional support by organizing group discussions led by experts.

Siira, based in Beirut, offers weekly online meetings, led by certified therapists or psychologists, on various topics, including parenting, relationships, family dynamics and work. People are welcome to discuss their issues in a “safe and private” setting.

The idea is to minimize stigma around mental health issues, alleviate isolation by bringing together people facing common struggles, and tackle issues at an early stage through a preventative approach, the agency said. founder of Siira, Sandra Salame.

“The idea is not to replace therapy but to increase awareness, to educate yourself emotionally so that at least you can detect if you have a problem, change behavior early and maybe you realize that you need therapy or realize you’re not the only one going through this,” she says.

“By saying the problem out loud, you’ve already started your treatment…the sessions are very humbling to hear people talk.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on mental health tech start-ups around the world, as disruptions to daily life and work, coupled with lockdown measures, have triggered and heightened stress.

Global funding for mental health tech start-ups reached $5.5 billion in 2021, more than doubling from $2.3 billion in 2020, the “State Of Digital Health 2021” report by market intelligence firm CB Insights showed. The majority of deals – 68% – were for start-ups, indicating further room for growth in the sector.

The pandemic, a 2020 Beirut port explosion that devastated large parts of the capital, as well as Lebanon’s economic collapse, led to frequent power cuts and inflation skyrocket to 155% in 2021, which has pushed 80% of the population below the poverty line.

Unsurprisingly, all of this took a heavy toll on people’s mental health. Low insurance coverage for psychiatric treatment as well as the lack of cheap and accessible support services have further aggravated the situation for those in need of help.

“The exodus of doctors, the crisis in services and the shortages of medicines add to long-standing challenges such as stigma,” Joseph El Khoury, president of the Lebanese Society of Psychiatry, said in a statement. Tweeter last December.

There are less than 100 registered psychiatrists in Lebanon, a Survey 2021 by the Lebanese Society of Psychiatry showed. Of those practicing and training in the country, the majority – 94% – think the state of mental health care in Lebanon is worse than before the pandemic, the survey found.

Many psychiatrists leave Lebanon due to instability, low income, few career opportunities or better clinical experiences abroad, according to the study.

Siira, which began operations in January 2022, has seen increased demand for its mental wellness services.

“People are hungry to come together and talk and know that they are not alone in their struggles,” says Ms. Salame.

“It’s a way for people to deal with these stressors that affect all aspects of life. The economic crisis will affect your mood, your health, the way you function or live your life – there is a lot of uncertainty and it comes back in the sessions.

Ms Salame, a tech executive, was inspired to start the initiative after facing her own “personal crisis” two years ago and seeking therapy.

Expensive treatments, a shortage of qualified therapists in the area, and the difficulty of checking practitioner credentials led her to create Siira.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” she says. “The shame and stigma is so high you think you’re on your own, but everyone is struggling with life’s issues and few people talk about them – you’re supposed to look like ‘having together all the time.’

As part of the group sessions, Siira organizes discussions and workshops on topics such as dealing with parental guilt, student issues, art therapy and teacher support. It also provides educational content co-created and validated by mental health experts, says Salame.

Target customers are Arabic speakers between the ages of 18 and 50 who have access to social media and Zoom.

Power outages and spotty internet connectivity can make it difficult for some to join support meetings.

“It’s heartbreaking when people cancel because the infrastructure is overloaded,” says Ms. Salame. “We rehearse the sessions but we never record them and that puts people at ease because it’s private.”

Users can join Zoom meetings by audio, video or chat, with attendance limited to 15 people to create a sense of trust, she says.

We invite people not to go through their life journey alone, let’s be together in each of our life journeys and take a journey inward

Sandra Salamé, founder of Siira

Still in the pilot stage, Siira’s business model will offer users a subscription to the platform on an annual, monthly or a la carte basis. It will also focus on the B2B market, where companies can offer the service to their employees and customers, sponsor workshops or pay for advertisements in educational content.

The initiative is supported by the C3 social enterprise Idea (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) accelerator through a program that provides entrepreneurs with expert business advice, access to a network of investors and an exhibit at Expo 2020.

The prices of the sessions will be set at $5 per month in order to “democratize” access to mental health services, explains Ms. Salame. Corporate rates will be different depending on the negotiations.

“The pandemic, like all stressors, is an accelerator: if you feel bad, you feel worse. So, it brought to light our need for connection. We are becoming a very individualistic society, people are living in silos, with no time to connect and create that social fabric,” says Ms. Salame. “It’s a way of bringing people together, even if they’re strangers. You feel that you are not alone and recreate this concept of community.

Ms. Salame’s next priority is to monetize the initiative and she is looking for investors, grants and funds to fund her projects, including the launch of a mobile app.

The start-up aims to serve at least 2,000 customers by the end of 2022 in the markets of Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, she says.

“Siira,” loosely translated from Arabic, means “journey of life” and aims to help people build healthier relationships and overcome personal crises, Ms. Salame said.

“We invite people to not go through their life journey alone, let’s be together in each of our life journeys and take a journey within,” she adds.

Sandra Salamé, founder of Siira.  Photo: Sira

Company Profile

Last name: siira

Founder: Sandra Salame

Creation date : January 2022

Situated at: Lebanon

Sector: HealthTech

Cut: 12 employees

Investment stage: Search for investors

Investors: Self-funded

1. What is your next big dream?

Making Siira the go-to platform for people to connect, learn and network with others and discuss their mental well-being, relationships and emotional life.

2. What new skills did you acquire when launching your start-up?

The importance of building the right team that will make this dream a reality and a strong support ecosystem; accept failure and see it as an opportunity for transformation rather than an obstacle; and be prepared to ask the right questions and be open to differing points of view.

3. How has the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis in Lebanon affected your business?

Both crises have affected the internal and external aspects of our initiative. Internally, our resilience as a team has grown as we continue to deliver our services despite all the challenges and instability. Externally, we have seen an increase in demand for our services. During tough times, people are looking for connection, they want to share their struggles and seek guidance to get through this crisis with as little damage as possible. Just by having meaningful conversations or listening to others, people can begin to heal.

4. How important are mental wellness services during the pandemic?

The pandemic, like all stressors, is an accelerator. It pushes us to question our choices and to reflect on our challenges, our desires and our dreams. It can aggravate our already precarious mental state or set us free. In all cases, stressors encourage change and confront us with the fragility of life. Having the right support system, awareness and taking care of our mental health becomes essential in these stressful times.

5. Where do you see your business in five years?

A sustainable, impactful and constantly innovating company. Hopefully Siira will continue to remind us to harness the power of the collective for a better quality of life.

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