Kept in chains: Mental illness rampant in Somalia

May 20, 2011 By ABDI GULED , Associated Press
In this photo of Wednesday April 28, 2011, chained mentally ill patients sit within Ahlu Khayr mental health center in Mogaidshu, Somalia. Somalia may be the worst place on earth to have a mental illness. A 20-year civil war has increased mental illness numbers and simultaneously destroyed any health care infrastructure. Hundreds of Somalis are held in what a World Health Organization report labeled "poor and humiliating" conditions. No quality mental health facilities exist, and no government funding is available. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

(AP) -- Hassan Qasim lies shackled to a wall in a hallway with 25 other patients at a clinic for the mentally ill. He whispers under his breath and spits at his neighbors. Torn and dirty clothes hang off his skinny frame.

Doctors say the 25-year-old's brother and sister were killed in front of him, and that he was abducted and tortured by gunmen. Soon after, Qasim began wandering the streets naked, lashing out at passers-by.

In this Horn of Africa nation that has been mired in anarchy and war for two decades, nearly all families have been touched by tragedy. The World Health Organization estimates that one in three Somalis have suffered from some kind of mental illness, a rate that is among the highest in the world.

Gunfire crackles every few seconds in Mogadishu at night, and mortars scream out of the sky.

"We believe every bullet or mortar will cause more people to become ," said Dr. Abdirahman Ali Awale, a Somali psychiatrist.

Somalia's civil war also has simultaneously destroyed health care infrastructure to treat the traumatized. A report found that the country has only three and no psychologists working at its five main facilities.

As a result, some Somalis have been chained up in mental wards for as long as eight years, according to the WHO. At one mental health facility, almost 50 percent of patients were chained. At other clinics, doctors recite the Quran to patients, hoping it will improve their condition.

This year, WHO began giving medicine and other supplies to the Habeb mental hospital, the only facility that treats patients without detaining them.

"Our treatment is chain-free. We never restrain them," said Dr. Abdirahman Habeb. He says the facility has treated more than 9,000 using a combination of medicine and counseling. Still, the majority of mentally ill people in face much grimmer prospects.

The Somali government, which is consumed by political infighting and battling an al-Qaida-linked insurgency, is unable to even assert control over all of Mogadishu much less help its traumatized population. It relies on 9,000 African Union peacekeepers to retain control of half the country's capital.

Dr. Rizwan Hamayun, who helped write a WHO study earlier this year examining mental health in Somalia, said the chaos has resulted in a loss of jobs, family, homes and property which in turns can contribute to mental illness. His latest new patient was a shepherd who attempted suicide after losing all his animals not to war but to a natural calamity - an ongoing drought.

While poverty and fear are the main triggers for , some also have been intimidated by continuous threats made by insurgents over mobile phones. Insurgents call and threaten people they suspect of collaborating with the government. As punishment for alleged crimes, insurgents saw off captives' hands and feet in public squares and stone people to death.

The insurgents accused Ibrahim Nuraddin of selling phone credit, bread, and other small items to Somali soldiers. The elderly former shopkeeper had a mental breakdown after receiving frequent death threats, relative Ibrahim Farabadn said.

Nuraddin had already spent one year imprisoned in his family's house or tied to a tree. Finally, relatives sought treatment after hearing that a Mogadishu clinic was taking patients. Three hefty men dragged Nuraddin into the clinic but he struggled to escape. They quickly chained him up.

Explore further: Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The crime of mental illness

May 31, 2010

Canada needs to change its approach to mentally ill prisoners as correctional facilities worldwide contain a higher percentage of people with mental illness than the general population, states an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian Me ...

Mental disorders and exposure to war in Lebanon

Apr 01, 2008

In the first study in the Arab world to document mental illness and treatment on a national level, researchers from Lebanon have described the prevalence of mental disorders and their relation to exposure to war.

Doctors fear asking mentally ill to quit smoking

Sep 09, 2009

People with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are the heaviest smokers in the country, but their doctors are afraid to ask them to quit. They assume that if their patients try to quit smoking, their mental disorders ...

Recommended for you

Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

Apr 18, 2014

A new article published online in The Gerontologist reports that among older Christians, listening to religious music is associated with a decrease in anxiety about death and increases in life satisfaction, self-e ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.