News / Africa

Mental Health Services Absent for Traumatized South Sudanese

Hannah McNeish
JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan emerged as a nation in July 2011 after almost five decades of civil war with the north. But despite its bloody history, the country does not have a single psychiatrist and no option but to sedate or imprison the masses suffering from post-war trauma.

At Juba’s military hospital, the walking wounded often have scars that cannot be seen.

Psychologist Amasi Ibrahim Adam says that she sees many fighters with post-traumatic-stress disorder.

“Most of the cases are suicide. Soldiers shoot themselves with a gun and it’s a problem, because they are ignorant of mental illness and there are no services to console them,” Adam said.

Surgeon and director of the military hospital, Peter Ajak Bullen,says that some patients like William, who was bombed on the front lines in April, are brought in by family members. But he says other traumatized soldiers can often go on the rampage to maim and kill others.

“A soldier getting, shooting his colleagues is common, just common. Shooting in the air, shooting civilians, is common. Being violent to civilians also is common, especially for the soldiers, who have just come out of war. It’s a common scene. In the frontline, when we go and visit, you see that there are so many cases of a colleague shooting a colleague.  Just because of depression,” Bullen said.

But although the hospital has bigger and better facilities than the public hospital, it has to deliver patients who do not respond to counseling and sedation there.

But at a 12-bed ward in the corner of Juba Teaching Hospital, psychologist George Wani, says he has no choice but to keep patients sedated for want of psychiatric drugs.

He has to use what little tranquilizers are available to calm patients down and that, if that doesn’t work, he has to send patients to Juba’s prison.

“The sanitarium of Juba is inside the prison. We are not intending to admit the mentally sick in the prison, but we are obliged and we have no alternative. As in an open space, the patient would be very destructive and harmful to others, very violent, aggressive and people outside cannot even right [correct] the situation,” Wani said.

South Sudan Deputy Minister of Health Yatta Lori Lugor says that the country has so many competing needs that the means to help the traumatized are just not there.

“Many of our people don’t know about these mental disorders, except when things come bizarre, like for example they see someone walking naked and then they conclude that this person is mentally sick.  But otherwise they cannot diagnose early cases of mental disorder,” Lugor said.

But until the hospital gets proper psychiatric drugs, staff and facilities, South Sudan’s mentally ill will remain sedated or shackled.

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