After nearly 30 years of war, many Somalis carry unseen wounds from the violence they have experienced.
The World Health Organization reports that one third of all Somalis suffer from some kind of mental disorder. The rate is much higher than in other poor, war-affected countries.
Sadly, Somalia has only five mental health centers and a few trained psychiatrists.
One Somali mental health specialist is working to change the country’s struggle with the effects of war and violence. Rowda Abdullahi Olad is a psychotherapist and founder of Maandeeq Mental Health Without Borders.
After working in the United States, she returned to her home country to offer her expertise. She quickly recognized the need was far greater.
“So many have experienced decades of war, drought, displacement and now are still experiencing terror attacks daily,” she told VOA during a visit to Washington, D.C.
She understood that many people needed more than treatment.
“Mental health should be an (important part) of state-building and political stability,” she explained.
‘A nation that needs healing’
Olad works with Somali political leaders, civil society groups and aid organizations. She holds training events to educate the public about mental health issues and their treatments.
“Most of my work relates to how I can tell the international community and… the Somali government to understand this is a nation that needs healing,” she said. “This is a nation that has experienced more than what a human mental capacity can take.”
Olad also believes progress on issues like reconciliation and peace-building cannot take place without mental health services. Many of the people who are working to reunite the country need to be healed themselves, she said.
“What I have seen is people who are in a conflict reconciliation setting or negotiation setting, you can see people are so traumatized,” she said.
Public unease over mental health issues
Olad’s organization is working to remove the public stigma about mental health issues in Somalia. Individuals suffering from mental problems are often ignored by society and their families. Harmful customs, like restraining patients cruelly, are still used in the country.
“There is a stigma because [people believe] either you… are insane or you’re not, there’s nothing in between,” she said. “And people don’t see mental health as something that’s curable.”
Olad also wants to use what she has learned from Somalia to help other conflict countries. She is hoping to attend the Mary Hoch Center for Reconciliation at George Mason University in the United States. Her goal is to develop guidance on how mental health can be used for peace-building in post-conflict societies.
“This guide will be used by all the countries that have experienced war,” she said. “So I’m hoping…[it can] have an influence on the policy level of the organizations and the government institutions.”
I’m Susan Shand.
VOA’s Salem Solomon reported this story. Susan Shand adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words In This Story
psychiatrist – n. a doctor who treats mental or emotional disorders
psychotherapist – n. treatment of mental or emotional illness by talking about problems rather than by using medicine or drugs
decade – n. a ten year period
capacity – n. the ability to do something
reconciliation – n. the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement
traumatize – v. to cause (someone) to become very upset in a way that often leads to serious emotional problems
stigma – n. a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something
insane – n. having or showing severe mental illness