A nationwide depression?

Mohamed Khougali on how revolution may have changed the psyche, and standing of psychology, in Sudan.

Here in Sudan, traditionally, psychological interventions are seen as trivial and elitist indulgences. There is a nonchalant attitude towards psychology. Trauma and flashback are viewed as behavioural issues, dealt with through disciplinarian means. There is not a behavioural issue that cannot be dealt with a stern stare, or warning. Extreme psychological diagnosis is dealt with using spiritual means. Even conversation surrounding the topic of psychology is seen as ‘pampering’.

All that is beginning to change: most vehemently during the revolution.

Sudan today; paramilitary forces surrounding the capital, caning and lashings an everyday ordeal. Arbitrary arrest, power shortages, high bread prices, long petrol queues, high unemployability rates, nationwide internet blackout, continuous crackdown on dissent… that’s the reality here in Sudan.

This revolution started years ago, when political dissent was being quashed, citizens stood against the tyranny of the (now former) regime. It was late last year that the revolution reached its epoch. The wave of change could be felt in the air, and anyone in Sudan breathing was moved by a different possibility.

Those hoping for change were drawn to the capital, wishing for a better Sudan for all. All these gathered souls built a home in a patch of concrete, shadowed by the waving flag of the nation. Poems were made to commemorate that day. Food was shared, and liberties were tasted. Spirits high, a euphoria that is only revealed when that many numbers of self-transcendent bodies come together. Chants of all kinds were constant. Atmospheric.

During the months of April and March, armed with bullets, the paramilitary group desperately tried to disperse the huge crowds. We were able to fend them off, until the 3 June massacre; the paramilitary groups stormed the protesters’ camp, armed with canes and heavy artillery, the massacre was indiscriminate. Over a hundred people were killed and hundreds more injured. That day would be a bloodied marker in Sudanese history, and at the last days of Ramadan no less.

Fast-forward to today. Spirits crushed and depression stricken. After the paramilitary group annexed the piece of concrete we occupied, we became nostalgic for euphoria. The wave of zeal that once swept over us has calmed, and the purpose that used to animate us, has left our bodies hollow. That, coupled with the general survivor’s guilt, the feeling of uselessness and lack of internet that cripples organising; the youth of Sudan face nationwide depression.

The protestors and demonstration campers have complained of crippling depression and despair. Others have become reclusive. With some suggesting that there’s no point in anything, Sudan is lost. Signs of depression can be observed in the lack of youth in the streets; street that were once vibrant with children playing football, and others sitting outside playing dominos and cards, are now a void.

This depression caused an estrangement from tradition. I believe this is a natural reaction. The youth of Sudan feel that the older generation have sacrificed their opportunity to appease the previous regime’s 30-year authoritative rule, and normalise quashing of liberties and dignities. The revolution was not just an action to collapse the old regime, but also to collapse the societal attitude that allowed for this to happen for so long.

With the collapse of the old decorum and norms, new ones emerge. Post-revolution attitudes towards psychology are positive and seen, rightfully, as an essential part of the whole. Even during the protester sit-in, conversations around the subject were positive and stigma-free. Today, there are people setting up group sessions that aim to alleviate some of the anxieties, along with online posts positively in support of psychological intervention.

My fear, however, is that the counter revolution has become manifest, with certain nefarious exogenous elements trying to interfere with the democratic transition…  will this return the old governance, and old norms? Or perhaps necessity breeds innovations; would that mean that in more mundane times there would not be as strong a focus on psychology as today?


- By Mohamed Khougali. See also 'Hidden treasures of knowledge'.

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