No struggle or pain, not even the deaths of human beings suffering from severe mental illness, has moved authorities into action in the Arab world.
In the past few years, the region has witnessed an alarming rise in suicide rates among people battling mental disorders. Yet initiatives aimed at helping those in need remain inadequate in many Arab countries.
Two tragic suicides recently made headlines in the region.
The first incident saw a father hang himself in the Lebanese city of Arsal due to severe financial difficulties. On Sunday, Naji al-Fliti ended his life while struggling with severe depression, his wife said in an interview with Al Jadeed TV. The man was unable to provide for his family after losing his job amid Lebanon's ongoing economic crisis and that certainly made things worse.
The second saw a 20-year-old Egyptian engineering student, Nader Mohamed, throw himself off one of Cairo's highest towers. Online users circulated texts associated with the young man in which he said he decided to take his own life due to study-related stress. However, it remains unconfirmed whether he was the one who sent out those messages.
The reactions to both these suicides highlighted the deep-rooted problem in the way mental health is tackled in the entire region.
As many mourned al-Fliti's death in Lebanon, there were also those who played into the "having faith means you can't have depression" rhetoric. Similar things were posted online in the aftermath of Mohamed's death in Egypt.
What some fail to comprehend is that it is this ridiculous notion that has prevented so many Arabs from speaking out about their struggles and seeking much-needed help.
Mental illness has nothing to do with religiosity — it doesn't differentiate between those who pray and those who don't. It's about time we all agree on that.
What will it take for mental health to be taken seriously in our countries? How many more suicides have to take place before people acknowledge the seriousness of mental health? These are the questions we all should be concerned with.
Authorities aren't making things easier
Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety were on the rise in Lebanon even before the country's economy descended into collapse this year. Uncertainty over the future amid the current situation is now detrimental to the health of those who were already struggling to cope.
Things aren't so different in Egypt, a country where economic struggles and unemployment rates have driven many to suicide.
So what are authorities in both countries doing to help initiatives aimed at helping sufferers? Mostly nothing.
In the wake of Mohamed's death, the North African country's authorities didn't question why suicide rates have been skyrocketing among young people. Instead, they launched an investigation into who leaked CCTV footage capturing the moment he jumped off a tower.
Even worse, in Egypt, some have previously criticized those who commit suicide in public spaces. Last year, metro spokesman Ahmed Abdul Hady attacked those jumping to their deaths at train stations.
"The metro is not a suicide destination… the stations are not the place for psychologically disturbed people because they disrupt the lives of millions of citizens," he said.
Abdul Hady didn't seem concerned with why so many people had been committing suicide in the country. He didn't take a minute to acknowledge their plight and suffering. Instead, he criticized the fact that these people were taking their lives at public transportation stops.
The same authority stagnancy goes for Palestine, a nation gripped by an illegal Israeli occupation that has practically destroyed the lives of millions and led thousands to develop severe mental illnesses.
So what prevents sufferers from reaching out for help?
Social stigmas and the fact that treatment for mental disorders is too expensive for the majority of people living in the Arab world are adding to the problem.
If you ask Arab sufferers dealing with mental illness why they don't seek treatment, most of them will say it's either because they fear being judged or they can't afford therapy or visits to a psychiatrist. Speaking to StepFeed, Rana, an Egyptian activist working with NGOs helping sufferers of mental illness who can't afford treatment in Egypt, told us the first step towards change lies in the destruction of social stigmas.
"From my experience this is the number one factor preventing people from communicating their struggles. We're not only talking about getting proper treatment here, we're also talking about destroying the shame these people feel," she said.
"Telling those struggling in silence that it's ok to reach out, to say what they're feeling is the first step forward. They can talk to a close friend, a family member or anyone they trust. This is crucial to saving lives," she added.
Maria, an activist working with an NGO in Lebanon, explained that treatment should be made more affordable.
"In Lebanon, a one-hour therapy session can cost up to $150. We all know the majority of people just can't afford that. Visiting a psychiatrist is way too expensive too. We can't ask those suffering with mental illness to get treatment without noting that for the majority of them, it'll amount to sums they don't have," she stated.
The activist added that mental illness should be treated just like any other chronic illness.
"The failed Lebanese state doesn't even cover costs related to illnesses deemed more serious than mental health issues. When and if they start doing that, we're here to tell them that mental illness treatment should be covered too because it's just like having diabetes or any other health issue in that it is life threatening when left untreated," she said.
Maria urged those suffering from mental health issues in Lebanon to reach out for help via a free hotline launched by Embrace.