How Libyan artists are addressing mental health

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The original article by Malak Altaeb, which has been syndicated for Arab Research & Advocacy Bureau, can be found here

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Mental illness is one of the least discussed topics in my society. If you bring it up in any group discussion, it will often be linked to craziness and demons. Whilst many Arabs are educated on the link between serotonin, cognitive development, dopamine levels and mental health, sadly, there remains a segment of society who lack information and education on this topic. Mental illness, as many of us know, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect your mood, health, and behaviour for biological and/or sociological reasons.

For example, so many girls suffer from eating disorders at some point in their lives. However, many people don’t consider it as a mental illness when, in fact, it is. It can get serious. I, myself, suffered from an eating disorder. It lasted for three or four years of deprivation and stress. I couldn’t bear the idea of weight gain; it was somehow eating my brain tissues because of overthinking. I was fighting my own self until I learned the healthier way to recover, and I am happy now.

There are other types of mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, and so forth. People must acknowledge that it is not always a temporary experience, and that some can suffer their entire lives from mental health disorders. Depression can be caused by built up stress. They don’t realise that not only do our bodies get sick, but our psyche gets sick too.

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In the Nafs (Psyche) art gallery in Tripoli, a number of Libyan artists, including Abdullah Turki, Ryazan Naas, Ibrahim Mokhtar and Mohamed Ellafy, have managed to shed light on this subject through their artwork. They portrayed mental disorders in a way like never before. There was a story of struggle, pain, and agony within every painting and picture. I was grabbed by every detail. I found myself roaming around the gallery looking for more work. It was powerful and full of emotions.

They have not only used paintings to express their vision, but have also used short films that showcased what a person goes through when they have a mental disorder. The films were without talking, which had an extra impact and grabbed the viewer’s attention.

In my opinion, the art gallery was a big success in communicating a message to a regressing segment of society that mental health illness is not about possession, evil eye and black magic, but rather about an often uncontrollable genetic and sociological predisposition to different attitudes of thinking.

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A note from Arab Research & Advocacy Bureau: Whether you are Arab, a millennial, or not, and suffer from mental health issues, you are welcome to contact our Communications Executive, Linda Wesson, at [email protected], who will privately provide you useful links for professional support dependent on your circumstances.

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