Mental illness 'rampant' in Somalia

The near daily fighting in Somalia has taken its toll on the mental health of its people, one doctor says.

by

    With all the violence and chaos in Somalia, anyone could go crazy. The near daily fighting has taken its toll on the mental health of its people.

    The evidence of this can be found almost everywhere, as most of Somalia’s mentally ill are either simply chained to beds or left to roam the streets, leaving them with permanent trauma and physical injuries.

    Somalia has one of the world’s highest rates of mental-health disorders. An estimated one-third of its eight million people are affected by some kind of mental illness, yet there are only three trained psychiatrists in the entire country to care for them, according to the World Health Organisation.

     “Degrading and dangerous cultural practices such as being restrained with chains are not only widespread but also socially and medically accepted,” the WHO said in a recent study of Somalia’s mental health care.

    Tireless advocate

    One man is devoting his time and energy to fight these cultural practices and thereby giving hope to Somalia’s mentally ill.

    Dr Abdirahman Ali Habeeb, is a psychiatric nurse by training, but prefers the title doctor. He does almost everything a doctor would do and more.
     
    A tireless and passionate advocate for the mentally ill, Dr Habeeb opened his first mental-health clinic in Mogadishu in 2005. He now operates a network of eight clinics and rehabilitation centres countrywide, with limited help from the WHO and other international donors. Five of his clinics are in Mogadishu.

    He also goes into remote parts of the country to save mentally ill patients - some of who have remained in chains for decades.

    “The bombardments, shootings and mortar shellings is what is causing the increasing number of mentally ill in Mogadishu," he says.
     
    And the the steady stream of patients is overwhelming for Dr Habeeb and his team of volunteer nurses.
     
    At just one of his five clinics in the capital, he treats up to 70 people. Habeeb says he has helped thousands recover from mental illness.

    Mental health risks 

    Dr Habeeb believes Somalia’s mental health problem is bigger than what is estimated by the World Health Organisation. 

    “I believe there is no one with good mental health in Mogadishu or in the entire South and Central Somalia because of what is going on. Normal people will not kill and maim their own, and for such a long time.”
     
    Dr Habeeb and his team lament that their effort to help the mentally ill is being undermined by the spiralling conflict in Somalia. Lasting mental health for all, they say, lies in peace returning to this country – devastated by years of conflict.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR



    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Explore how your country voted on global issues since 1946, as the world gears up for the 74th UN General Assembly.

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.