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Somalia Conflict takes Toll on Civilian Mental Health

  • Joe DeCapua

Somali government forces run in a street during skirmishes with insurgents from the al-Qaida aligned terrorist group Al-Shabaab in the Wardigley neighborhood in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/ Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

Somali government forces run in a street during skirmishes with insurgents from the al-Qaida aligned terrorist group Al-Shabaab in the Wardigley neighborhood in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/ Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

A new report says the prolonged conflict in Somalia has taken a big toll on the mental well-being of civilians.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says many are suffering from mental illness and have become socially isolated and vulnerable.

In Nairobi, Dr. Marthe Everard, the WHO representative for Somalia, says, “The situation is not very good. As you can imagine, after 20 years of war…and civil strife and problems and displacement…we think that one in three Somalis has one or the other mental health disorder.”

Horrific

The problems are many and varied. Everard says they include anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, mental retardation, substance abuse and epilepsy.

The WHO describes the violence faced by many Somalis as “horrific,” including beating, torture and rape.

“The situation is worse than we ever had thought. Really a loss of security feeling, a lot of disruption, people are walking around with…war trauma,” she says. Other problems contributing to mental stress include high unemployment and poverty. A worsening drought is threatening livelihoods and livestock.

Everard says there’s “a lack of hope and trust especially (in) the younger generation.”

Not part of the plan

“The whole idea to have mental health in the portfolio for humanitarian assistance is not there. And that is why we have tried to compile all the possible evidence and information possible in the situation of Somalia…to bring to the wider world to make it clear that this needs maybe even urgent attention,” she says.

And then there’s the stigma of mental illness.

The WHO representative says, “Stigma and discrimination are indeed there. Let’s say a person in the community or in the family starts to behave very erratic, very violent, very impulsive, then they are seen as a crazy person.”

Everard says when a family can no longer care for such a person, he or she may end up chained or brought to institutions or jail.

“It is not only food, water and some medicines (that are needed), but there is a need for some extra support to people who cannot cope anymore with their daily lives,” she says.

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