By Amina Abdel-Halim and Marina Makary
Although mental health issues affect an estimated one in four people in Egypt, mental illness remains a highly stigmatized topic across the country. Patients and their families often find themselves on the receiving end of judgment and social exclusion, hindering recovery and rehabilitation.
The newly launched Fahim Foundation for Mental Health Support aims to lift this stigma by raising awareness through lectures, workshops, media campaigns, and other outreach initiatives under the slogan ‘understand, listen, and speak’.
The foundation, headed by former Minister of Emigration and Egyptian Expatriate Affairs Ambassador Nabila Makram, places special emphasis on the role of family in early detection, treatment, and recovery; as well as working to provide families of people living with mental health issues with adequate support structures.
At a launch event held on Friday 27 January at Almasa hotel in Nasr City, attendees were greeted with a pamphlet introducing the foundation’s mission, along with brief definitions of various mental illnesses. The examples spanned conditions ranging from social anxiety, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia, pointing to the foundation’s inclusive ethos: no illness, however debilitating, is too taboo to talk about.
In her opening speech, Makram brought words of hope and acceptance to people with a mental illness, their families – and in particular, the mothers of children with mental illnesses, saying: “Please, do not feel guilty or ashamed. As for everything you will hear people say [about your child’s mental illness], don’t listen to them.”
During a panel discussion held on the launch day, Egypt’s Minister of Health and Population, Khaled Abdelghaffar, stressed that the mental health field in Egypt suffers a number of issues, mainly the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. To combat this stigma, Abdelghaffar called for the creation of a comprehensive city dedicated to mental health.
“The number of psychiatrists in Egypt is relatively low and this is partially a result of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses,” said Abdelghaffar.
Among the issues addressed during the event were the stereotypes that have been promoted in Egyptian films, such as the labels attached to people with a mental health issue and doctors alike.
“Lack of research into mental health by the media leads to the misrepresentation of patients and doctors,” said Medhat el Adl, Egyptian screenwriter and producer.
The foundation’s launch day also witnessed the signing of protocols with the Ministry of Health and Population, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the National Council for Women. The protocols aim to develop mental health clinics and hospitals, raise awareness among youth and families, and prepare graduates of Arts Faculty’s Psychology Department to work in the Health Ministry.
“Fahim Foundation aims to remove the band-aid from the wound,” added Makram during the event.
“So that we can understand, instead of ignore; so that we can listen, instead of refuse; so that we can speak, instead of staying silent.”
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