Farida Salem, Egypt’s ex-professional women’s national team footballer & founder of Empower Football Academy, agreed to speak to us about the challenges she faced during the period of peaking at a top-flight professional level football in Canada.

While she initially had her sights on becoming a professional footballer, being one of the first Egyptian girls to secure a soccer scholarship to play abroad in Canada, things didn’t quite turn out the way they were intended to be.

After many battles on and off the pitch, this we asked Farida started our conversation with focus on her attention on mental health in her daily life.

First of all, do you believe in mental health and how much attention do you give it in your daily life?

I practice being mindful everyday. I have a card in my wallet that says “PAUSE”.

Occasionally, I take it out, which I then follow by inhaling 5 deep breaths. It calms me down a lot.

I also reflect a lot.

So before I reply to someone I always take the time to ask myself where is my response coming from.

Something I find useful, if I have experience a sudden feeling internally: I watch it as observer until it no longer has any power over me. It’s a great coping mechanism that separates me from my feelings.

Do you find teenagers have adequate support psychologically and do you believe mental health is in need for more attention in Egypt?

It took me three therapists to reach the right one in Canada.

I also spoke to one of my university’s sports mentors as he was the only one to understand the anxiety I would get on the pitch due to the hard circumstances I faced transitioning from Egypt to Canada.

It took me three tries to find the right one there.

In Egypt, it just took time, and a lot of research.

I am pro seeing therapists to even maintain your mental wellbeing. We don’t have to be suffering to reach out for support.

How common do you see young adults suffer from Mental Health issues such as Depression and Anxiety?

I feel like it’s very common.

Because of many things.

The lack of conversation about it. I see that it is still very taboo.

Nowadays with how fast everything is going… how connected we are to our phones…

Social media…

Fear of missing out…

Anxiety is definitely becoming more common amongst our younger generation.

The lack of talking about it with parents is a huge part.

As a culture, we don’t acknowledge it and usually these topics get pushed under the surface.

I am certified in ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). I have so far had to use that training once in Canada and twice in Egypt.

The one in Canada was a critical. It took a toll on me. I had to go and be the first responder in the situation.

Nonetheless,I am grateful to be trained at saving lives just when they can be over.

How have you overcome your mental health problems in the past. Do you have any strategies worth sharing?

I find that, with my anxiety, it used to be really bad.

I use this grounding/mindfulness  exercise, which I find very helpful

Take note of your senses. Bring your awareness to:

5 things you see,

4 things you feel,

3 things you hear,

2 things you smell,

1 thing you taste.

Its works very effectively with me, bringing me back into present moment whenever I get overwhelmed.

Counselling has taught me one major lesson: to always know at what stage I am in, in my mind.

I always know when I am in the red or yellow state, which is a representation of my mental states. (Yellow being that I must be cautious not to experience any anxiety attack. Red being an alarming signal for myself to urgently take action due to the severity of my internal state. )

It’s always important to make sure you are aware of your state through signalling, using these cues, for example.

Finally, what message would you say to someone experiencing severe emotional discomfort in Egypt? 

I’d recommend seeking help.

I feel like definitely research and word of mouth is the most reliable to go.

Definitely find someone you can trust.

I agree there is an issue with confidentiality.

I read your previous interview with Mint and I do agree that finding the right therapist takes a lot of research and time. Once you find the right therapist – one you feel that you can trust them, that’s all you need.

I would also find a group of people or friends you trust.

I do believe that your best friends can be your best therapists.

Any personal advice/tips?

One thing I always do when I’m feeling unwell, I write down one person who loves me. I always like to write as it makes me feel better.

Journaling and free-writing. Sometimes things come out that I didn’t know that exist.

In my writing sometimes it feels super sad. Haha

I write all my emotions and it’s an outlet I let out all my emotions out.

Free writing is something I’d recommend anyone to try out.

My final words would be that I don’t separate physical and mental health.

I was taught to believe that a  holistic person is being in a state of balance: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Also, I really like this quote:

“You can eat clean, go to the gym, sleep early, but if you don’t take care of what’s in your heart and what’s on your mind, you’re not a healthy person.”

It’s honestly silly that people neglect that aspect in life.

Final Notes

On a personal note, as Ally Salama, on behalf of Empower Mag, I’d like to thank Farida personally. We both connected very well, having similar experiences in Canada, where mental health resources are easily accessible. Our experiences helped us become more equipped with different coping strategies against different stressors we face. We hope you give Farida’s strategies a try!

Please let us know who you would like us interview next in our BreakTheSilence Interview series!

For inquiries, you can reach us at [email protected].