NORTH TUSTIN, California — The war in Yemen began in 2014 and progressed into a destructive civil war within the country. The war caused a humanitarian crisis that increased food insecurity and the inability to access health services, worsening people’s mental health in Yemen. In 2021, the United States announced an end to support to Saudi Arabia’s coalition which it began supporting in 2015. The end of U.S.-led assistance impacts the ability of Yemenis access to humanitarian assistance which exacerbates the problems within the country. Here is some information about mental health and mental health resources in Yemen.
The Mental Health Crisis
Among the various concerns in the country, access to services related to mental health in Yemen remains significant. The United Nations Population Fund estimated that 30% of the population required protection in 2017. The Family Counseling and Development Foundation (FCDF) found that 20% of Yemenis experience a mental disorder in 2017; however, now, the founder of the FCDF and an advocate for mental health in Yemen, Dr. Bilqis Jubari, believes that the number of people experiencing mental disorders is one out of every three people. This number stands in contrast to the vastly under-resourced mental health services, where there is only one psychiatrist for every 600,000 citizens. Another important fact is that 82% of people in Yemen live in poverty, restricting their ability to meet basic needs, regardless of access to mental health services.
Dr. Bilqis Jubari’s Work
Dr. Bilqis Jubari is a psychotherapist in Yemen, who began the first mental health services center in Yemen in the large city of Sana’a in 2011. She receives funding from the Dutch Government and from an organization called Cordaid. Cordaid is an international group that works in countries experiencing poverty and conflicts such as the war in Yemen. It works in areas of fragility, which remains especially relevant in a world with 1.6 billion people living in fragile areas. Cordaid works toward a vision of equality and inclusion. This is the platform under which Cordaid desires to assist Dr. Jubari in her quest to help those in Yemen experiencing poverty and women experiencing gender-based violence and structural inequities.
Yemen’s culture is based on the segregation of men and women, resulting in hardships in women’s lives. Only 35% of Dr. Jubari’s patients in her mental health center are men. The mental health center also offers support to entire families. Dr. Jubari hopes that the treatment of mental health disorders in women will liberate them in other areas of their lives. Of the women that the health center treats, 77% are illiterate. One of the goals of treating mental health in Yemen is to shift perspectives on cultural norms in society without forcing people to change their beliefs.
Other Mental Health Efforts in Yemen
Over the years, a number of other organizations developed mental health resources in Yemen. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) developed a call center in 2018 in Sana’a to deliver treatment to individuals over the telephone. Telephone services assist the people within the population who are in rural areas, face economic challenges or are unable to receive treatment due to the mental health stigma within the country. There are currently six call centers in Yemen, and the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid supports one-third of the call centers. These call centers provided 18,000 people with mental health resources in Yemen since 2018.
One of the main services that the United Nations Population Fund provides is support for those experiencing gender-based violence, much like Dr. Jubari observes in her mental health center. Additionally, the organization, Doctors Without Borders created a program with Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Al-Gomhouri hospital in Hajjah to treat mental health in Yemen. The program provides psychological and psychiatric treatment and group sessions. Around 70% of patients involved in the program are men, which the organization interprets as a sign of the inaccessibility of mental health services for women due to a variety of factors. Doctors Without Borders makes an effort to educate the community on the benefits of mental health treatment.
These three organizations continue to provide and adapt to various situations as the war lingers. Each continues to outreach to local populations, especially women, to make an impact on the impoverished region. Dr. Jubari adds that she hopes that Yemenis’ ability to find peace within themselves will allow for a more peaceful society.
– Kaylee Messick