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Shackled and Sedated: Situation of Yemen’s Psychiatric Hospitals

Having the largest and worst humanitarian crisis in the world, Yemen is still suffering from the devastating consequences of an ongoing conflict fueled by intense disagreements in political authority and power. Millions are affected by the rising unemployment and poverty rates as well as inadequate access to basic resources like food, water, education, and healthcare. The Yemenis have experienced countless explosions, missile strikes, and gunfires that are aimed to destroy their structures and inflict bodily damages. Therefore, mental illness (anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, and many more) is not uncommon.

Lack of Resources and Overwhelmed Workforce

Due to the lack of government funding, psychiatric hospitals in Yemen are unable to provide the proper intervention strategies like therapies and medications to the affected individuals. After all, only about 40 psychiatrists are practicing within the country as most are left to work in safer and more peaceful environments. There is also a shortage of laboratory personnel and maintenance workers to accommodate a large number of patients. Each day, people desperately visit the facilities to be admitted for their mental health conditions; however, the staff is left with no choice but to tell them to return home and to patiently wait for available slots before they can come back. Thus, Yemenis resort to unverified treatment methods based on superstitious beliefs which may exacerbate the illnesses.

A Look Inside Taiz Psychiatric Hospital

Vice News posted a video that showed viewers the heartbreaking situation occurring inside the Taiz Psychiatric Hospital. Isobel Yeung, a Vice News reporter, stated that the atmosphere of the facility was more of that of a penitentiary rather than a psychiatric hospital. Patients had chains on their ankles and they wandered about the hallways as if they were in a trance state. Isn’t this a violation of human rights? The current director of this hospital, Dr. Ael Mulhi, explained that all these are for the good of the patients themselves as well as the people around them. According to him, they must be restrained with chains and given tranquilizers to stop them from escaping and going back to society wherein they may harm innocent people. Through such measures, the staff was able to ensure that possible psychotic episodes would not lead to more catastrophic issues.

Meet Radhwan Ali Hassan

Living under the same roof as his mother, Radhwan Ali Hassan is one of those who are struggling with mental illnesses and are unable to seek professional help from the available trained psychiatrists. Just like most Yemenis, Radhwan’s family was unable to escape poverty and as a result, could not afford the expensive costs of necessities, transportation, consultation, and medications. Therefore, without knowing his condition and triggers, his mother decided to keep him securely chained to the wall in her house. This was the only way to control Radhwan during his bursts of anger and aggression.

It is truly distressing to see how the long, cruel war has negatively impacted the mental health of the Yemenis. Workers, parents, children, and soldiers have to live with frightening images of witnessing their homes/workplaces destroyed and their loved ones wounded or even killed. However, sad to say, mental health is still not the priority of Yemen and its allies as they focus on supplying basic necessities, improving the reproductive healthcare situation, and rebuilding essential structures. Moreover, there is still a stigma deeply rooted in the people as Yemenis believe that if one has difficulty in coping with their mental health conditions, then he/she is branded as weak by society.

We hope that this ideology will be altered in the near future and that the situation in Yemen will be improved. As Michelle Obama had once said, “Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.”

Thank you for reading!

Oriana Tolentino



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