In a country with a population of 90 million, where around 25% of this population suffers from one or more types of mental illnesses, one would assume that there is a strong body of professional support to treat these individuals. Unfortunately, Egyptians face a harsh reality when it comes to mental health, with a society that strongly stigmatizes mental illness and most it’s therapy methods and a health sector that gives minimal attention to this prone medical issue.
Findings from a recent survey conducted by the world health organization (WHO) in co-ordination with the ministry of health, show that of the 25% affected individuals, the majority come from underprivileged rural governorates. For example it was announced by the General Secretariat of Mental Health that the governorate of Minya suffers from the highest levels of anxiety in the country. Other rural areas where highly affected by depression and anxiety conditions that positively correlated with substance abuse. This comes as no surprise since there is extremely minimal to no medical attention given to mental health in these rural areas. Most associations with someone suffering from a mental illness are viewed under the negative connotations of “magnoon” or a complete ignorance of the situation due to the common misconception of it being a taboo.
When shifting the focus to Egypt’s capital, Cairo, we can find the issue of a lack of medical attention also prevalent. One of the cities biggest and most known mental health hospitals is Al Abbasiya’s Mental Health Hospital, ironically one of the cities’ embodiments of the stigmatization of mental illness. The place where patients are supposed to find support and peace whilst openly dealing with their illness becomes the place that is feared and ridiculed by outsiders. In a report conducted by Specialist of psychiatry Dr. Michael Fawzy, on standards in mental health facilities in Egypt, the findings describe the atmosphere in which a mentally ill patient would be treated.
Descriptions include, exploitation and cruel behaviour exhibited by nurses onto the patients and unliveable environments that include dirty toilets, prison-like wired windows and horrible quality food. These standards are reflected in the statistics revealed by a WHO report on mental health in Egypt that calculated that Egypt’s governmental health department spends a mere 2%, of the 55% of overall government expenditure it takes up, on mental health care. Thus, it is safe to say that patients are more likely to leave these institutions with a worsened mental state than the one they entered with.
This is not to say that Egypt has not had vast strides in addressing mental health issues through private clinics and the existence of a trained therapist in certain educational and work institutions. There are many clinics spread out, mainly across Cairo and some in other major cities such as Alexandria. Many international schools are beginning to have an on-call therapist at the student’s disposal when needed; and even higher education institutions have well-being centres for their students. However it is important to note the monetary cost that these options induce. Private clinics have a high hourly fee, that wouldn’t usually be affordable for the working class individual; similarly being enrolled in an international institution that recognizes the need of mental care for students is also quite costly. Hence these most optimal options that are at hand, are only available to a small proportion of the population, completely excluding many other sectors that are in vital need for medical attention.
Egypt’s Mental Health Condition
All studies conducted on Egypt’s mental health issues and the facilities that treat mental illnesses have shed light on the massive issues that the country faces when it comes to tackling this topic. Whilst, educating citizens from a young age about mental health and raising awareness may help reduce the stigma and taboo feel surrounding the matter, it is also important for to look at the practical medical side of things. Our current public mental health facilities are extremely low in standards and in no condition to treat any patients. It should be one of the health ministries main concerns to shift it’s resources onto bettering these facilities; which will in turn source into a positive more accepting light shed onto mental illness and more importan tly actually help in the recovery and treatment of mental health patients.