In a recent report, the World Health Organization outlined the seriousness of a mental health crisis brewing in civil-war torn Somalia. In the past, we’ve mentioned the chaotic and constant warfare, the drafting of child-soldiers, and the rising incidents of rape and oppression of women and children in some African countries. (Over the years we’ve worked with several people from African countries including Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia, among others, so these human-rights issues are something we’re generally aware of).

Some of the shocking mental health issues that affect several African states are due to the brutal fighting. Many suffer from PTSD and other emotional problems related to sustained trauma.

“We believe every bullet or mortar will cause more people to become mentally ill,” said Dr. Abdirahman Ali Awale, a Somali psychiatrist, in this Atlanta Journal Constitution article.

The article also mentions compounding issues, such as drought and famine:

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 mental illness, some also have been intimidated by
continuous threats made by [Al-Quaeda linked] 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.

Now, in Somalia it seems that treatment problems are exacerbating this painful state of affairs. At the five main mental-health treatment centers in the country, there are only three psychiatrists and no psychologists. At most of the hospitals, the mentally ill are kept in chains—literally shackled to large rocks, the floors, and walls.

It’s an important step in the right direction that the WHO report is bringing attention to this major human rights crisis but these problems are occurring in other countries, too. Lack of understanding about the causes of mental illness as well as overt prejudice have lead to serious abuse reported from Liberia, Yemen, Sudan, Chad, Angola, China, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other countries on more than one Continent.

Meanwhile, here in the United States we’ve just about stamped out abuse of those with mental illness or other
disabilities (of course, some bias still exists).

[Photo Credit: PH2 PHILIP WIGGINS]