The possibility of being mentally ill in Egypt has almost always been hushed away. It qualifies as a shameful taboo. Egyptian families often perceive mental health issues as an attempt for attention, a need to get closer to God, a need to pray more often, or a symptom of craziness.
Break The Silence was born on Oct. 16, 2017, and it is addressing this issue. It is one of the movements that aim to end the stigma and raise awareness on mental health issues facing youth in Egypt.
Ally Salama, the founder of Break The Silence, is a 21-year-old Egyptian Singer studying Entrepreneurship in Toronto. Having spent his childhood years in Egypt, Ally Salama started to notice the mental health situation of the country after realizing that the majority of his friends were not courageous enough to talk about their problems. “After a series of difficult days, which impacted someone very close to me, I knew that I needed to start this movement,” said Salama.
A series of personal experiences opened his eyes to the huge differences between the services found in Toronto and in Egypt. “During my rough times in Canada, I had the chance to call a hotline. That is the mission that we are working towards in Egypt,” said Salama.
Experiencing mental health illness away from home, family and friends was definitely a very difficult experience. “I live alone and that was detrimental when I went through my illness. Being a danger to your own self is scary,” shared Salama.
Salama started off with the anonymous submission forms that allowed young kids in Egypt to share their stories online. People started sharing the submission forms and people began asking to be apart of the initiative and that was how the group in itself was formed.
The anonymous submissions helped the movement gain momentum. Break The Silence started gaining responses as well as followers on Facebook.
One anonymous submitter wrote, “My parents don’t believe in these problems and consider them as just me simply overthinking situations. I have asked several times to go and see a therapist and they refused each time.”
Another anonymous submitter wrote, “A suicide attempt, self-harm, severe depression and insomnia were simply brushed off as a ‘need to get closer to God’.”
When asked about his current target group, Salama said his focus is on, “youth and young adults in Egypt.” He added to explain that, “mental health is just as serious as physical health. They should have the same connotations.”
Salama explains that “it’s harder to put hands on an issue that is intangible. But that’s why we have the anonymous submission form. We discovered that all what some people needed was an ear that could take in, acknowledge and offer back pure love, strength, and solidarity. As non-professionals, that’s exactly what we have set to do. Turns out, not many had the basic need of any human: to feel loved.”
As a team, Break the Silence are in the process of making this bigger by planning on, “developing into a student-run group at AUC,” explains Salama, “to increase exposure and help more people”. Salama hopes to, through the movement, “educate Egyptians about mental health by hosting talks and events related to mental health issues”. “My dream is to team up with young prosperous psychologists and psychiatrists and open up a healing center in Egypt aimed at our target audience, that introduces all the latest ways in the field such as music therapy” highlights Salama.