Where their societies may offer them stigma and shame, the program City of Stars welcomes children with mental health issues with love. The SAT-7 KIDS program seeks to support this marginalised group by giving them a voice.

The MENA could be headed for a mental health crisis. Countless young lives have been disrupted by conflict and political turmoil, and this early adversity could have a devastating effect on many people’s long-term mental health.

To make matters worse, there is little effective treatment available. In many countries, including Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, there is fewer than one psychiatrist for every 200,000 people[1].

But there is also a deeper problem: widespread social stigma.

In Egypt, where SAT-7 KIDS’ program City of Stars is made, around 25 percent of the population are thought to be affected by mental health problems[2], most commonly anxiety or depression. Despite this, these issues are often dismissed as a sign of weakness or a spiritual problem, and those who live with them often lose jobs and friends.

Ignoring the problem

When children show signs of mental health or developmental issues, parents often ignore the problem, labelling them “naughty” or “the silent type”. Many do not seek treatment, partly because the stigma extends to mental health professionals, who are often considered untrustworthy.

Some parents hide their children away altogether, and there have even been reports of children being abandoned.

Modelling inclusion

In this environment of shame, the new season of City of Stars shows viewers a radically different approach – one based on love.

In its successful first season, City of Stars invited children in the Middle East with physical and intellectual disabilities. Now, for the second season, City of Stars is working with children with mental health issues, hoping to challenge the prejudice that they often face in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The program welcomes children with mental health problems, bringing them together with other children to learn and co-operate in a fun play-city environment.

“There is real interaction and communication among the children,” says Producer Tamer Adly. “This teaches the other children, and the viewers, tolerance – they learn to accept others as they are and not judge them.”

This welcoming experience will help the children involved grow in confidence and may, in some cases, help alleviate their symptoms.

But the benefit will also be region-wide. By leading by example, the show aims to improve attitudes in MENA societies, helping equip them to deal with the mental health consequences of years of turmoil.

[1] Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2012

[2] Source: Ministry of Health and Population, Egypt

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