Egypt and the Middle East in general have long turned a blind eye to mental health issues, even dismissing victims with terms like 'crazy' and 'dramatic'. There is such a pervasive negative stigma surrounding mental disease that even becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist is somewhat of a questionable career choice.

Now, there’s a fast-growing movement looking to bring down the barriers of fear and judgement that keep this serious issue in the shadows. Break the Silence Egypt is a community that was recently created by Ally Salama, an Egyptian musician who lives in Canada. The platform was created for mental illness sufferers to share their experiences and inspire others to do the same, so as to normalise and promote mental health awareness.  

“I’ve lived alone since I was 17 and it was definitely really hard,” Salama tells Cairo Scene. “But what inspired me is seeing other people deal with it, and it helped me realise that I can use music to express these feelings. I wanted to use my voice for more than just music.”

He began to read up on mental health research in Egypt, until he realised the extent of the stigmatisation that goes hand in hand with mental illness that he decided to act. He initially planned to launch the Facebook page on November 1, but when he shared the link to an anonymous submission form he created with one friend, he was astonished to find four responses by people confiding in him with their problems, before even having any official outlet for the campaign.

Salama hopes that firsthand accounts of personal struggle will help people understand mental illness in Egypt. “People were crying inside. People needed it as soon as possible,” Salama said. “People need an ear, they need someone to be there for them. Sometimes, people fear their own families, it can be really dark,” he says.

As much as he is concerned, Salama is also optimistic about the future. He was thrilled to find complete strangers who stepped up to help him administer the social media pages and share their future plans. They’re currently a team of eight, and their aim is to raise widespread awareness of the magnitude and validity of mental health issues.

Salama is currently working on a music album that’s being produced by a friend of his. He hopes his pop/R&B music will give soul to these issues and convey the feelings so many often keep bottled up. Eventually, Break the Silence hopes to create a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline in Egypt.

Show them some love, like their Facebook page and follow them on Instagram.
You can also anonymously submit your personal story here and find a therapist in Egypt on their list, organised by type and area.