On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, Egypt’s Health Ministry is set to launch a campaign this October dubbed El Saraya El Safra, aiming to raise awareness on the mental health services provided by the ministry throughout the country.
“With the help of 18 hospitals, we are carrying out this awareness campaign to battle the stigma of mental health in Egypt. A mental disorder does not mean you are crazy,” Khaled Megahed, spokesperson for the ministry of health told Egypt Independent on Wednesday.
“Our main aim is to inform Egyptians about the importance of mental health, and how our services can help them fight through psychological issues they might be facing. We will tackle the cultural shame related to psychotherapy, as well as the benefits that can come out of it,” Megahed added.
The choice for the name of the campaign El Saraya El Safra, meaning “the yellow palace” – a slang synonym historically used for mental health hospital to mean “lunatic asylum,” drew criticism. Today, merely the name “Abbasiya” – Egypt’s oldest psychiatric hospital and asylum in Cairo – has become synonymous with the proverbial notion of a “madhouse” from which there is no return.
Member of the medical syndicate council, Ahmed Hussein, told Egypt Independent that he was surprised by the name of the campaign which he described as a “disaster.”
“The name does not work in the advantage of the campaign at all. I believe it destroys everything everyone has been trying to do to combat the stigma of mental illness. How can you fight a stigma by the use of what causes it?” Hussein said.
Megahded, however, believes that the name of the campaign works well because it can grab attention as it’s a commonly used name to mental health hospitals.
“The results of the campaign are what matter,” he added.
The campaign will launch starting in four hospitals within Cairo such as Abbasiya hosital, El Khanka and Helwan hospital. The work of the remaining hospitals will be distributed among Egypt’s governorates, Megahed explained.
Mental illness remains one of the darkest taboos in Egyptian society. Ashamed and embarrassed, those who seek help are subjected to routine scrutiny and abuse from society, causing the stigma to catalyze the plight of innumerous Egyptians who shun the prospect of receiving care altogether.