It's Time To Break The Somali Mental Health Stigma
- 1 Post
Somalia is a nation with a rich history, a nation that births storytellers, writers, poets, and nomads; a country so beautiful it was once known as the "white pearl of the Indian Ocean." Like any other nation, we also have a history of war, pain, and trauma.
For centuries, the Somali community has reduced the mental health crisis to be the "disease of the devil." Our trauma and pain started during the beginning of the civil war. One tremendous impact that the war had on people is that many Somalis had no choice but to leave the only place they knew, their mother language and their culture. Many communities and families were separated. They had no choice but to be refugees. The Somali diaspora ended up around the world, The Dadaab region in Kenya is the third largest refugee camp in the world and home to thousands of Somalis.
I interviewed a friend of mine, Liya, a Somali woman who struggled with general anxiety disorder and depression about her experiences dealing with mental illness. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.
"It was absolute hell, I was told by several Somali people that I am listening to the words of shaytan (the devil) and I almost began to believe it. I later tried to talk about it to my parents but they said the exact same thing. I used to be abused a lot emotionally from my friends also. As time went on, I became more and more secluded; almost numb in a way. I thought I wasn't meant to get better until a distant relative of mine told me to seek a psychiatrist and therapist. Even though I'm getting help now, my mental illness is still a part of me and it will always be. I am a survivor," Liya said.
Many factors mix into why Somalis deny the existence of mental health illness. Based on my experiences, Somalis view mental health illnesses as the outcome of not being religious enough, being possessed by the devil, not being educated enough and simply believing that it's your destiny to live your whole life without getting help. Mentally-ill Somalis are often forced to be the subject of abuse, like being chained up to trees, starvation, rape, and physical and verbal abuse.
Today, I am very hopeful for the revitalization of Somalia — several mental health hospitals are being constructed in Somalia. More Somalis are being educated on the science of mental illness, and Somali mental health professionals are becoming more prominent. It seems like the next-generation of Somalis will be able to get the help that they need.