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.
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.