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Ongoing Turmoil Undermines Egyptians' Mental Health


The violent aftermath of the Arab Spring in Egypt is taking a toll on the mental health of ordinary Egyptians. And with no end in sight to political and social strife, some psychiatrists warn the numbers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders and anxiety-induced depression will climb.

Egypt has been through months of political turmoil since the army toppled President Mohamed Morsi in June with more than 1,000 killed and 20,000 detained in the country's prisons. Psychiatrists say the violence and uncertainty about the future is affecting the mental health of ordinary Egyptians as well as activists.

"I've seen people shot at, with live ammunition," said accountant Mohamed Abaza. The father of three daughters said he is still struggling to overcome the depression that struck him last year when the violence erupted.

"I didn't want to do anything. I didn't even want to search for a job because I needed one, but I was not in the mood to have some interviews and to take the stress of being interviewed and accepted or not accepted by someone. I didn't want to do anything. I shut down the television because I felt it exacerbated my mood," he said.

Psychiatrist Ahmed Abdellah said he has seen a change in his practice. He said the political turmoil and Egypt's economic deterioration are causing depression, severe anxiety and traumatic stress disorders. There are no reliable numbers of those struggling with mental health problems, however, and he thinks many people are suffering without help.

"The problem is that the majority of people who are suffering, they don't go to receive care," said Abdellah. He said the lack of treatment can have serious long-term consequences.

"Generally speaking, when you are stressed or under oppression, some of the oppressed they go to suicide, some of them are into more violence, to be armed, to have something like armed resistance for the regime. And some just, maybe the majority, are withdrawn and isolated and just dead with their life," he said.

Accountant Mohamed Abaza worries that his eldest daughter, Gehad, also is in the grip of depression, and he said she is no longer the carefree girl she once was.

"I feel depressed, but I also feel so, like, I feel so guilty about what is happening to people, because of what is happening to me is obviously not as bad as to what is happening to my friends. You know, I have friends whose husbands are like in prison, and, like, whose brother died," she said.

Neither father nor daughter has sought therapy - Arab culture sometimes frowns on counseling.

With many Egyptians suffering without therapy, three years of revolution and counter-revolution are exacting a heavy price on Egypt's mental health.

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