In early 2013, a group of youth started a Facebook page called Cairo Confessions, an online platform for people to publish unspeakable concerns under the comfort of anonymity. But what had begun as a youth experiment soon turned into a “social” support group, uncovering an often overlooked need for psychological support amongst Arab youth. Today, its founder Mohamed Ashmawy plans to turn the group into an online helpline that gives youth the chance to get their problems heard, providing a series of lessons to learn from this thriving group:
1. There is an impending need for mental health services in the Arab world. Youth want to be heard. They want to tell their personal stories, express their concerns, and improve their interpersonal relationships.
2. Mental health is not for the “crazy” or troubled. Despite the taboos and social stigma related to mental health in the Middle East, counseling and psychiatric care are often needs that most individuals have as they undergo the different stages of life. The group currently receives a steady flow of 150 confessions per day, an eloquent proof of the extended need to voice their problems.
3. Technology and social media can be unparalleled facilitators of dialogue. Anonymity provides a chance for people share what they can’t share in public.
4. Mental health needs to be personalized. People need to express their concerns with their own voice. No matter how much mental issues may resemble each other, each personal history is different. Anonymous does not mean general.
5. Listening to positive stories can catalyze hope and change perceptions. There has been a wave of positive stories in the group, which generated interaction among users, as they felt identified and recognized similarities with their peers.