Addressing the Stigma of Mental Illness in Tunisia: Overcoming Anxiety, Depression, and Society’s Fear

2023-12-11 12:13:43

The latest studies show that about 20 percent of children and adolescents suffer from anxiety disorders, and mental illnesses among adults constitute 98 percent of the reasons for long leave in the government sector.

Indicators issued by the World Health Organization also show that the demand for tranquilizer pills in Tunisia has reached 15 percent.

Hiding mental illness out of fear from society

The doctor in psychology, Wahid Maleki, explained that the demand for psychological treatment has increased during the recent period in Tunisia due to the changes that the country has experienced politically, economically and socially and because of the Corona virus, which has shaken society.

Al-Maliki said, in statements to Sky News Arabia, that talking about psychiatry has become easier, although some still hide their mental illness for fear of social rejection, while others refuse treatment for fear of drug addiction.

He stressed that people with mental illnesses can be treated and fully recovered, with the exception of some chronic disorders, which require continuous treatment and coexistence with them, indicating that the health status of psychologically disturbed people who undergo treatment is much better than those who refuse the treatment protocol, which often includes drug treatment and improvement. A person’s living conditions.

Panic attacks, anxiety and depression

For her part, psychologist Cyrine Bakkar said in statements to Sky News Arabia that the effects of psychological disorders go beyond the physical and behavioral signs they leave behind on the individual, to affecting society and raising the rates of various social phenomena, such as school dropout, addiction, and illegal immigration. And high rates of violence, adding, “Although mental illness does not justify deviant behavior, medical diagnosis often shows psychological fragility among most deviants and addicts, making them classified among the personalities who choose to escape from reality instead of confronting problems and searching for solutions to them.”

She confirms that most of the mental illnesses prevalent in Tunisia are related to psychological anxiety disorders, depression, and panic attacks, and these conditions require accurate diagnosis of mental illnesses, far from self-medication with anti-anxiety medications or resorting to “life coaches.”

The secret of mental illness

Psychologist Cyrine Bakkar works within the team of experts at the Nedaa Mental Health Center “Ahkili”, which provides psychological counseling to hundreds daily by phone. She confirms that most of the consultations are related to overcoming crises, dealing with children and adolescents, adapting to the work environment, and overcoming psychological anxiety, as those seeking psychological services express relief because they are not forced to reveal their identities in order to obtain guidance and psychological support.

Mrs. Maryam, 37 years old, spoke to us: “Yes, I hide from my family that I seek refuge in a psychologist and take some antidepressants for fear that they will not keep the secret and that I will be exposed to social stigma at my work and in front of my relatives. I began my treatment journey two years ago after the death of my father, and my doctor asks me to give up medications completely.” Gradually, for fear of a relapse in my psychological condition.”

For his part, Majed (42 years old) confirms that the cost of psychological treatment is very high and can only be afforded by the wealthy class. He says: “I sacrificed a lot to treat my teenage son for addiction, as the sessions are expensive, as are the medication and follow-up.”

As for Sinada (26 years old), she said that she is being treated for bipolar disorder and her condition stabilizes with medication until she lives a normal and calm life, before she was surprised by her fiancé’s reaction when he learned of her illness. She says: “My fiancé refused to consummate the marriage and expressed his fear that my condition would deteriorate after marriage and that I would pass on.” Hereditary disease for my children.. It hurt me very much and I regretted telling him.”

It should be noted that the cost of psychological treatment in the private sector in Tunisia is high compared to the standard of living, while the public sector provides psychological clinics in a single government hospital specializing in mental, neurological and psychological diseases, which is Al-Razi Hospital in the capital, Tunis, and psychological treatment units within university hospitals.

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