Language and perception a major impediment to addressing mental health in Somalia

In Somalia individuals with mental health problems are commonly called ‘crazy’

Eva Ahs, a Corrections Advisor with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), presents a certificate to a participant at the end of a three-day UN-supported training for mental health professionals in Baidoa, Somalia on July 26, 2017. Photo: UNSOM

Cases of mental health have remarkably increased in Somalia in the last 20 years but little has been done to address, a government official has said.

Speaking during a capacity building workshop on mental health in Baidoa Thursday, South West state acting director general of the ministry of health Issak Mohamud Mursal said lack of training and awareness on mental health had made it difficult to treat the condition.

“We have concern that mentally ill people have been increasing in the last 10 years or 20 years, and the problem we have is that we haven’t got any training similar to this,” Mursal said.

Amelie Runesson, a Corrections Advisor with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) echoed the director’s remarks noting the perception of mental health and the language used in conveying messages on mental health was a major impediment to treating the disease.

“In Somalia individuals with mental health problems are commonly called ‘crazy,’” noted Ms. Runesson. “One of the key messages delivered was the importance of rather understanding it as an illness which can be treated.  Changing the vocabulary is a first step to challenge the stigmatization.”

Runesson said the training aimed to shed light first of all for the stigma surrounding mental health and then provide participants with the basics in common psychiatric disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and also to give them the basics in psychological assessment, specifically suicide screening

The state of mental health in Somalia has been on the back burner of health priorities for decades, although available statistics show that the incidence of mental illness in the country is one of the highest in the world.

Figures at the Baidoa psychiatric hospital indicate an increase in the number of patients diagnosed with mental illnesses. Prisoners and detainees are more prone to mental illness, according to the World Health Organisation. Most patients present symptoms of conditions such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and epilepsy, according to the hospital’s director.

The first of its kind in the region, the three-day training was jointly organized by the Rule of Law and Security Institutions Group (ROLSIG) of UNSOM and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).


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