A for anxiety, B for belonging: 'New alphabet' to help UAE teens talk about feelings, emotions

The 26 characters of 'the Alternative Alphabet' represent different facets of mental wellbeing, from courage and tolerance to mindfulness and insecurity


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Fri 30 Jun 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 30 Jun 2023, 9:14 PM

An education group in the UAE has launched a card game as a mental health tool to help teenagers discuss their issues after studies showed that 70 per cent of them were not forthcoming about their feelings. The Alternative Alphabet, launched by GEMS Education, has 26 characters, each representing a different facet of mental wellbeing, from courage and tolerance to mindfulness and insecurity.

According to a spokesperson for the group, it is the reluctance of youngsters to talk about their emotions that prompted them to come up with this game.

“We conducted a survey of over 4,500 young people and learned that 7 out of 10 students aged 11-18 won’t speak to friends or classmates about their mental health challenges,” said Ranju Anand, senior vice-president of Education at GEMS Education. “So, we wanted to create a resource that would enable them to engage with complex emotions more easily, and with The Alternative Alphabet card game, we were able to provide an impactful and relatable approach.”

Ranju Anand
Ranju Anand

The resources, which were designed in partnership with Thrive Wellbeing Centre, helps youngsters to match each letter to an emotion and increase their comprehension of the complex emotions they’re learning to deal with daily.


Dr Sarah Rasmi from Thrive emphasised the importance of this tool. “Many mental health challenges begin in childhood and early adolescence,” she said. “We can help our children by giving them the tools they need to understand and express the difficulties they are facing. It is also important to continue to break the stigma so that they can reach out for support when they need it.”

Dr Sarah Rasmi
Dr Sarah Rasmi

According to Ranju, the group is working hard to ensure the resource reaches those who need it most. “We’ve made the game available as a free resource for educators and parents,” she said. “Alongside Thrive Wellbeing Centre, we’ve also conducted a series of workshops with students from across our UAE schools. Our aim is to ensure teenagers across different communities and backgrounds can benefit from this innovative tool.”


There has also been a campaign around it by getting multiple celebrities, entrepreneurs, influencers and athletes involved. “We invited 26 people from around the UAE to ‘own’ a word from the Alphabet that resonated with them on a personal level and then share anecdotes and advice about that concept through their own channels,” she said.


It is important for teenagers to have good mental health practices from very early on, according to Dr Sarah. She said they would benefit from having healthy lifestyle practices from a very young age. “This means getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in regular physical activity,” she said. “This also includes staying connected to one another by building a support network of friends, family, and trusted adults who can provide a valuable safety net.”

She said it was important for children to also practise mindfulness. “Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises — especially around exam time or other periods of stress — can help reduce feelings of anxiety and help manage overwhelming feelings,” she said. “We also want to encourage young people to seek help from professionals when needed, again to move outside of the stigma surrounding mental health. Most importantly, youngsters should also focus on spending their time engaging in activities that bring joy and purpose, such as hobbies and creative pursuits, which can contribute to overall wellbeing,” she added.

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