There are fewer than 50 psychiatrists in Yemen, one for every 600,000 inhabitants. While Yemenis need more and more psychological help because of the war, the corona pandemic and poverty. Help that is almost non-existent. And that problem could get much bigger.

“As a doctor, if you help someone with physical complaints, it will help one person. If you help someone get rid of their mental problems, you help an entire community,” says doctor Bilqis Jubari. She is one of the few psychotherapists in Yemen. With her organization MFPSS (mental health and psychosocial support) she helps as many people as possible.

“It is with a heavy heart that we still have to send people away every day. We don’t have the resources to help everyone.” The treatments at her practice are free, but many people don’t even have enough money to join the practice.

Doctor Jubari is in the Netherlands at the invitation of Cordaid, to talk about the problems in her country. Together with the Dutch embassy, ​​the aid organization is working on better financing for organizations such as Jubari’s. The Yemeni government does not have the money for that. There are a handful of public psychiatric hospitals in Yemen, but even there people do not get the help they need.

“People with mental illnesses are often locked up at home, especially with women,” says the doctor. “People are not taken to a psychiatric hospital until their family no longer knows what to do with them.”

During her trip in Yemen, Middle East correspondent Daisy Mohr visited one such public psychiatric hospital.

“The situation is inhumane,” activist Shifa Said Bakhamish said. She visited the hospital last summer and was shocked. “When I entered, all the men were huddled together under one ceiling fan. There is no water and the electricity is sometimes cut off. They are not treated at all.” Most clients are permanently detained in the institution.

At the hospital, correspondent Daisy Mohr and cameraman Pablo Torres spoke to doctors and caregivers, as well as clients. In the men’s department, but very exceptionally also in that of the women:

Middle East expert Hans Wurzer recognizes the problem. He is mainly concerned about the future. “This problem does not stop here, but will be passed on to the next generation,” explains the expert from Research Institute Clingendael. “There are not only physical, but also mental war wounds. And I fear that both will be felt by the next generations.”

As a result of the war, young children are already suffering from disorders such as PTSD. You can suffer from such a disorder for the rest of your life without treatment.

Due to the fighting and violence, the shortage of doctors is growing. But even before the war, good treatment was not self-evident. “Unfortunately, there is still a great stigma surrounding mental health problems in the Arab world,” Wurzer said. “People who suffer from this are often seen as weak, or are considered not to have been devout enough. It is an issue that has not been given sufficient priority for decades.”

Suicide among women

Doctor Jubari also notices that people try alternatives before they come to her practice. “Sometimes families first visit a special kind of imam, because they are afraid that their loved one is under the spell of the devil, for example.” She also sees how two out of ten women she treats have already tried to commit suicide.

When asked what the solution is to the problem, she has only one answer: “An end to the war, that is the only solution.” Her work therefore seems like a drop in the ocean, but she still perseveres. “It’s hard work, but every time people thank me again and tell me how their lives have changed, I know it’s worth it.”


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