MOGADISHU, Somalia — Currently the 10.6 million people of Somalia live in one of the worst-performing economies in the world. Approximately 60 percent of the population live in poverty and face extreme droughts, conflicts, food shortages and medical supplies shortage. Thus, placing at least three-quarters of the population in severe poverty. Not only is a majority of the population living in poverty but many have mental illnesses too resulting from political, economic and conflict instability. Mental health in Somalia is heavily dependent on domestic conflicts that lead to unfavorable living circumstances due to lack of food, water, sanitation products and medicine.
Effects of Conflict and Violence on Mental Health in Somalia
The tremendous amount of conflict and violence in Somalia has taken a toll on its citizens. One in three Somalis is affected by some type of mental illness, ranking Somalia as the highest war-torn country with skyscraping mental illness statistics.
Many individuals have suffered due to torture, rape, beating and other injuries. They may have also witnessed inhumane acts inflicted upon their loved ones. This constant brutality and domestic instability have psychologically damaged many individuals who are victims of violence, especially the poor.
Mental health in Somalia is incredibly stigmatized. Many patients suffer neglect and abuse from caretakers at home and in hospitals. The mentally ill are traditionally chained or imprisoned: a form of treatment the Somalis believe will fix an individual with mental health problems. This is due to the lack of awareness and lack of therapy/treatment for mentally ill people.
As a result, many who need help will feel less inclined to reach out for help fearing being chained and/or taken away from their families.
How Mental Health in Somalia is Being Addressed
Presently only five mental health centers situated in Berbera, Bossano, Garowe, Hargeisa, and Mogadishu are treating patients with basic care. Many who suffer from mental illnesses, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and others as a result of ongoing conflict and instability in the country, do not receive necessary medical care that could improve their mental health
The WHO estimates that at least 90 percent of those who eventually seek help may have been chained at least once in their lifetime. The current resources that are being allocated to larger hospitals are often out of reach to those in low-income families. Families who live in poverty rarely have any access to mental health aid although they suffer from mental illnesses the most.
The WHO is currently collaborating with local medical facilities to encourage mental healthcare in low-income areas. The practice of chaining the mentally ill indicates that primary healthcare and mental healthcare are not being provided seriously in Somalia. With the goal of raising awareness and education, WHO’s Chain-Free Initiative advocates keeping hospitals, medical institutions, homes and environments chain-free in order to support and properly treat those who are suffering from mental illnesses.
Dr. Abdirahman Ali Awale, known popularly as Dr. Habeeb, is a well-known advocate for mental health awareness. He is also one of the few psychiatrists with multiple practices in Somalia. With facilities that provide outpatient consultations and treatment for those suffering from illnesses such as schizophrenia, PTSD, substance abuse and depression, Dr. Habeeb is battling mental illness along with his many colleagues. They believe mental illness needs to be officially addressed in the country.
Dr, Habeeb also runs a mental illness awareness campaign by giving lectures and explaining outreach activities to schools in order to educate the young and make it known to them that mental illness is curable.
Mental health in Somalia is a large issue that affects the majority of the population. With the help of the WHO, Somali legislation, and individual medical and mental health professionals in the country, mental health in Somalia will be addressed properly.
– Aria Ma