By Zainab AbdulAziz
With close to 150 thousand followers, Cairo Confessions (CC) has grown since 2013 to become an anonymous sounding board for the struggling and misunderstood in Egypt.
The process is straightforward. Through a Google form, anyone can submit their confession or a problem they’re facing anonymously to the CC team, which then goes through a filtration process and is potentially selected to be posted on the Facebook channel. Followers of CC then have the opportunity to respond to the anonymous poster with advice, previous personal experiences, support, encouragement and warnings. Obviously, there are a few bad apples who ridicule or bully the poster, and more than a few religious zealots dismaying the degradation of Egyptian society, but the CC team work tirelessly to moderate comments and issue warnings – even blocking abusive users from the channel entirely.
The CC mission statement is to create “a less judgmental society, where there is no stigma about meeting new people … a more open, creative, and definitely a more accepting community” but that’s not all. The platform plans to connect Egyptians with mental health providers any where, any time for high-quality online counseling and psychiatric care. In honor of World Mental Health Day, we chatted with with CC’s Chief Executive Mohamed Allam, Madonna Remon and Noha Tarek, the Posting and Moderation Team Heads, to find out what drives the platform, what common obstacles they face managing the channel, and what fuels poor mental health in our society.
CWM: How did the idea for Cairo Confessions come to life?
Mohamed Allam: The idea started in 2013 as a curious experiment, just to see what people would say if they were asked to send in confessions anonymously. After a short while, serious issues and submissions started pouring in, and our team began to form and take shape. Currently there are various roles involved to help Cairo Confession run, from posting to moderation to community management.
Does CC have a specific mission statement that helps to govern the group?
Mohamed Allam: Yes indeed, our mission is to spread awareness regarding the importance of emotional support and mental health issues, breaking societal taboos and creating a judgment-free environment through encouraging the development of the Egyptian mentality. We thrive to encourage a society that is more tolerant and accepting.
How do you believe CC helps people struggling with mental health issues?
Mohamed Allam: Well, we do not offer any sort of professional help. However, we do believe that through posting confessions, a confessor feels relief at least for venting, and second, sharing the confession with our community gives the confessor the chance to find emotional support amongst the comments and maybe even good advice that can be quite helpful in some cases.
What do you think contributes the most to poor mental health in our country/society?
Mohamed Allam: The stigma. The fact that everyone is afraid to be judged for looking for professional help.
What are the biggest obstacles in running such a popular group?
Noha Tarek: The biggest obstacle is keeping the group as safe as possible and as judgment-free as possible also. Controlling a group with over 100k members, trying to make it a safe place for you to confess or comment, and creating an environment for people to get the support they need without judgement or insult is not an easy task at all.
What are the most common submissions on CC?
Madonna Remon: We find a high number of confessions that relate to people feeling they are not in control of their own choices. Generally, we use hashtags to sort our confessions and keep track of the most popular type, but we have found the most common theme of an issue can pop up under different hashtags.
For example, a lack of control can appear as a lack of control over their body, a sexuality hashtag. Or a lack of control over life choices, a family hashtag. People feel that they are stuck in a pattern they need to fit into. This leads to the second common theme: people fearing to exit their comfort zone. They fear failure, because they believe it leads to judgment by society. They fear rejection from a crush, which presents as a relationship hashtag. It can present itself as miscommunication between a married couple or a sense of loneliness, finding a lack of activities to participate in and ways to connect with others.
Lastly, people cannot speak their feelings and thoughts. They cannot even go to get medical help, because they’ve either scared of being labeled or don’t have enough money to afford the sessions. This often leads to total despair and can fall under the suicidal hashtag.
What do you think made the group grow at such a fast pace?
Mohamed Allam: The need for people to find a safe place to vent and speak without being judged. In Egypt nowadays, this is very rare. Bullying and judgment are both part of our common culture and societal norms. Maybe this is a big part why our fanbase increased rapidly.
What is the biggest reward of running a group like CC?
Madonna Remon: Helping people to speak up and reach out for support from those who can relate to what they are going through. The fact that this page can open up someone’s eyes to see what is beyond his or her bubble is also motivating.
After working with CC for so many years, what is the most thing you’d want to see eliminated from society in order for people to live more peacefully in terms of mental health?
Madonna Remon: I think that living in a judgmental society is a big factor in poor mental health. This can be projected on anything. What people wear, how they feel, what they say, how they choose their friends, what career choices they make, and even which person they are going to live with and their relationship lifestyle. Whether you are a male or a female, you face huge expectations and a set of criteria to achieve. A sense of living in a very controlling society; whether it is your family, your neighborhood, your school, or your work environment can also lead to poor mental health.
Mohamed Allam: Of course. We plan to expand our scope of help by connecting platform users with professionals who can offer a higher level of help to those who need it in our community. We aim, at some point, to become a connection between Egyptian society and all kinds of emotional and psychological help. Our events are expected to grow bigger in scope to include not just social events, but also support events where professionals can be present and on hand to sit and help attendees in a more direct way.
To learn more about Cairo Confessions, visit: https://www.facebook.com/cairoconfessionsofficial/