Editorial: Is the World Driving Us Mad?

15 July, 2022
Reading Time :3 minutes
Mohamed Hafez, “Journeys from an Absent Present to a Lost Past,” mixed media, 2022 (courtesy of the artist).
It’s indisputable that we live in maddening times, as we traverse years of plague, war, migration and climate change — difficult years in which mental illness is on the rise.
When our editors got together and brainstormed a special issue on MADNESS, we intended, of course, to talk about mental health during and as a result of isolation under Covid, but also discuss some of the many crises of the day.
Few of us have enough experience to know how to deal with someone in our immediate family who suffers from mental illness, whether schizophrenia, clinical depression, paranoia or full-throttle psychosis. In the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as many as one in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year. In France, assert government figures, one in five adults encounters mental health challenges, troubling as many as 13 million citizens each year. Similar figures are the case in Iran, the Borgen Project found, although over 60% of Iranians receive no treatment while only about 20% who suffer psychic stress have adequate access to mental health treatment. Mental health figures in Arab countries appear a little harder to come by.
Regarding suicide as an outcome of mental illness, Iranian American novelist and TMR contributing editor Salar Abdoh reminds us that, “Many suicides are not a matter of mental illness, but the result of a personal hell due to political and historical circumstances. The Afghan women killing themselves in droves after the Taliban took over last year would much rather not do so; if they choose to kill themselves, it is because they are left with no other option. The same can be said to be true of men and women in Iran, who reach the end of their tether due to economic hardship, often as a result of the harsh economic sanctions enforced by the United States.”
By way of further explanation, as anthropologist and Jadaliyya editor Maya Mikdashi notes, violence against women and femicide is on the rise, including in France, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq. “Violence against women has risen sharply around the world,” she tweeted recently, “in recent Covid/crisis years.”

In her review of the Franco-Tunisian film Arab Blues, Mischa Geracoulis finds that Tunisians suffer from a range of mental maladies, while a recent study found that over 40% of Tunisians surveyed would consider leaving the country as undocumented immigrants. And Farah Abdessamad in her review of the experimental film 1941, explores the effect of war and trauma on the psyche of Yemeni men and women. In his review of Waves ’98, Youssef Manessa discusses the mental health of Lebanese in recent decades. And Youssef Rakha and Tugrul Mende review new books, by Maged Zager and Shahd Alshammari, who shares with TMR an excerpt from her first book, Literary Madness In British, Postcolonial, and Bedouin Women’s Writing, which aims to investigate literary representations of madwomen figures who protest against their respective societies and environments.
And three short story writers tackle madness as a byproduct of trying to cope, respectively, in Iran, Italy/Lebanon and Cairo, in “Big Laleh, Little Laleh” (Shokouh Moghimi), “Where to Now, Ya Asfoura?” (Sarah AlKahly-Mills), and “The Devil’s Waiting List” (Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi).
Finally, Ani Zonneveld looks at the madness of the US Supreme Court’s recent decisions, in “American Theocracy and Failed States.”
The world may be driving us crazy, but sharing our stories across cultures and borders is one way to hang on to our sanity.

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