Increased levels of stress and fear due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a spike in mental health issues globally. Egypt is no exception to these mental health concerns, prompting the Egyptian government to take steps to address the subject of mental health in Egypt. For the country and its citizens, studies of mental health and mind date as far back as the Pharaonic era. Today, COVID-19 has prompted a revitalization of mental health awareness and solutions to better strengthen Egypt’s mental health care.
Mental Health in Numbers
A country-wide survey by Egypt’s Ministry of Health in 2018 indicates that 25% of Egyptians suffer from mental health issues. The Ministry of Health derived the data from a “random sample of 22,000 families” in Egypt. The survey noted a high prevalence of depression and anxiety conditions with anxiety impacting almost 44% of the population experiencing mental health issues. About 31% of Egyptians enduring mental health conditions are “suffering from depression that is linked to substance abuse.”
A 2020 study that Safaa M. El-Zoghby led aimed to uncover the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in Egypt. Researchers gathered data between May 2, 2020, and May 9, 2020, from a survey of 510 Egyptian adults. The survey results indicated that 41.4% of respondents endured severe mental health impacts due to the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lack of mental health awareness and high treatment costs prevent progress in the mental health arena. The societal stigma surrounding mental illness tends to discourage Egyptians from seeking out help for mental health conditions. Schizophrenia, for example, is one mental illness in Egypt that continues to hold significant stigma. In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Egyptian-Canadian psychologist Rita Kallini has stated that society labels Egyptians suffering from schizophrenia as “crazy.” In addition, the Egyptian Journal of Psychiatry conducted a study in 2020 that indicates that almost 44% of 300 patients with diverse mental health conditions reported victimization in the past year.
History of Egyptian Mental Health
In Egypt’s ancient past, the country studied and documented mental health. Ancient Egyptians’ knowledge and awareness of “diseases of the mind” point to this, according to an article by Mervat Nasser, a senior lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Leicester. Her studies involve an analysis of ancient Egyptian papyri, which documents some of the first known concepts of psychology and mental health disorders.
In studying the papyri, Nasser concluded that the ancient Egyptians identified mental health conditions in their people similar to the conditions modern psychiatrists and doctors see in their patients today. For example, ancient Egyptians described a form of sadness with the ability to manifest physical illness. In Nasser’s explanation, she determined that this sadness “is this somatized form of depression that is still regarded to be the commonest presentation in Egypt today.” Nasser also concluded that carefully selected and trusted sorcerers held unofficial positions as ancient Egyptian psychiatrists as the papyri had no mention of an official physician of the mind.
Increasing Mental Health Awareness in Egypt
Despite the significant societal stigma surrounding mental health in Egypt, modern Egyptians are setting forth to break barriers to mental health progress through awareness movements and initiatives.
In August 2021, the Ministry of Health and Population in Egypt announced an intention to set in motion a cycling marathon to raise “awareness on mental health concepts among adolescents” in Egypt. With 100 participants and precautionary COVID-19 prevention measures in place, cyclists rode 12 kilometers in support of adolescent mental health in Egypt. The Ministry recognizes the psychological impacts of COVID-19 on all people, especially adolescents, and aims “to provide all means of psychological support to improve the level of mental health for adolescents.”
Young Egyptian minds like Ally Salama, the founder and CEO of EMPWR Magazine, “the Middle East’s first online mental health magazine,” have set forth to spread awareness of Egyptian mental health. Salama’s goals of societal mental health acceptance and awareness are some of many goals of young Egyptians striving to change the way Egypt views, manages and treats mental health issues that afflict the nation.
Hope for Improving Mental Health in Egypt
Ally Salama and the Ministry of Health and Population in Egypt aim to change the landscape of mental health in Egypt. Salama, who has made history with his efforts, is one of many Egyptians trying to break the stigma that clings to mental health in Egypt. Salama, other activists and Egyptian leaders serve as inspiration for others to help improve mental health in the nation.
– Michelanie Allcock