Stigma around mentally ill patients slowly fades
There are approximately 500,000 psychiatric patients and 1.5 million neurology patients in Yemen, according to 2010 statistics cited by the Al-Amal Psychiatric Hospital.
The statistics indicate that about 50 psychologists are working in Yemen, spread across the governorates. This averages out to one psychologist for every 40,000 psychiatric patients.
Doctor Abdullah Abdul Wahab Al-Sharabi, a psychiatry and neurology specialist, said one of the biggest obstacles psychiatrists in Yemen face is the increase in patients despite the stagnant number of doctors.
“There are psychologists working in hospitals and in psychiatry centers, but it's considered few because psychiatry in Yemen is still in the first steps,” he said.
Contrary to the statistics, Al-Sharabi said the number of the psychologists in Yemen numbers 70, and they cover different areas.
Yemeni culture and beliefs contribute to the delay in psychiatric therapy development in Yemen. Most people resort to mental health centers after they try all the traditional healing ways. They always use honey and herbs and go to charlatans to heal their patients.
Ali Saleh’s niece who was mentally ill, so her parents took her to a sheikh.
“The sheikh gave her a mixture of honey, which forced her to vomit,” he said. “Her family saw her shouting, and they were glad because they thought it meant the genie was leaving her [body].”
Al-Sharabi said even after patients come to the hospital for medical healing, they believe the medicines considered as drugs, which create a large distance to heal the patients in the nearest time.
People opinions in the street match with Al-Sharabi's talk. Abdul Wali Al-Jahmi, a contractor in Sana'a, said many families consider mental illness a stigma, so they don’t want to admit a family member is ill.
“If we think correctly, psychiatry patients are people who have a disease, and they need to go to the doctor to recover,” Al-Jahmi said.
Ibrahim Al-Qadhi, a mathematics teacher in Sana'a, said he noticed that the majority of Yemenis take their family members to the hospital when it's already too late, making it difficult for doctors to treat them.
Monira Hassan, a homemaker from Taiz, said in Yemen, the first step to healing those patients is to take them to sheikhs because of the lack of awareness.
“People believe that the patient has genie or he has been under spell, so they lose a lot of time before seeking medical treatment,” she said.
However, Al-Sharabi assured that since the 1980s, the culture is changing and today, people are better equipped to comprehend the nature and the needs of psychiatry patients, so they try to get medical treatment as soon as possible.
“People seem to understand doctor's instructions; they keep following up on their relatives in mental health centers, and they show a good cooperative spirit with the medical staff,” Al-Sharabi said.
He added that psychiatry centers in Yemen offer good services to patients, in parallel with providing medicine in hospitals and pharmacies for patients, but he mentioned it needs time to cross the cultural and traditional barriers remaining in Yemeni society.