By Amina Malik
United Kingdom – Nabila Afilal will be returning to her homeland of Morocco to climb Mount Toubkal in hopes of raising awareness about mental health issues. Afilal is currently in the training phase to climb the 4,167-meter-high mountain in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains on May 10.
A project manager at a consultancy firm, Afilal will be raising money for BIG in Mental Health, a British charity that aims to provide free mental health help. She believes depression to be an epidemic.
The 38-year-old says on her Just Giving page, “I’m doing this enormous challenge as a means not only to push myself generally but I know getting to the top will require me to dig very deep mentally to keep going. It’s not a comparison by any means of the daily challenges close friends and family have had over the years to even get up out of bed, to shower or to even smile.”
Globally, depression is rapidly becoming a debilitating force. The World Health Organization states depression to be the leading cause of disability worldwide. However, due to economic stress and pressures, not everyone can access mental health care.
A study titled “Mental Health Care and Human Rights in Morocco,” led by C. Aroui with a team from Hassan II University found an urgent need for mental health institutions in Morocco. Particularly, the study found mental health facilities in rural regions of Morocco to be lacking or totally non-existent.
People in rural societies such as the Atlas Mountains, where Afilal will be climbing Mount Toubkal, therefore have few mental health resources. Rural Moroccan populations are just as susceptible to mental health issues as other populations, if not even more so.
People who begin to manage their symptoms of depression such as lethargy, pessimism, and mental fatigue tend to subsequently increase productivity. Ultimately, there is a payoff to investing in mental health. In many ways, investing in mental health is investing in the future.
The government health department directs 4 percent of health care expenditures towards mental health. About half (49 percent) of mental health expenditures is for mental hospitals.
Only severe mental disorders are covered in social insurance schemes. This method of pathologizing mental health is not only expensive, but it does not attend to the vast majority of Moroccans who could be productive but just need help.
Half of the Moroccan population has a mental health issue, and 26 percent suffer from depression. Broad and affordable solutions should be made more readily available.
The core aim of therapy is individual empowerment. Although the government can and should make changes, there is much someone who is suffering from a non-life-threatening depression can do.
For instance, one easy-to-do yet often overlooked technique is to be aware of one’s internal dialogue throughout the day. Thoughts like, “I am stupid, I’ll never be any good” or “I’ll never find employment” create emotions such as sadness and fear. When these thoughts and feelings are repeated often they become mood disorders such as depression or anxiety.
Watching and controlling our thoughts, telling ourselves the opposite of what we fear, “No I will pass the exam next month” for instance, will slowly start elevating our mood and self-esteem. Managing thoughts combined with self-care practices like listening to positive music, writing down feelings in a journal, creating a gratitude list, and eating to nourish the health of the body are all inexpensive ways of improving mood.
Far too often, people are susceptible to blaming sihr (black magic), ‘ayn (evil eye), or Hasad (jealousy) for their mental health problems. This puts the responsibility outside of ourselves for change. However, religion teaches the exact opposite: God does not change the condition of those who do not change themselves.
The first step to change our condition is to change our thoughts, and this is in our personal control. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help people with depression or anxiety with their thoughts and consequently change negative behaviors. These facilities require a few qualified practitioners and a safe building.
Beds, ECT machines, even medication is usually not required for effective treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an affordable option for investment and can be easily distributed throughout Morocco. All that is required is awareness, training, and a genuine willingness to work together for a better tomorrow.