What did the war do to the minds of Yemenis!

Psychiatric patients in Taiz; the forgotten victims
Dhaifallah Al-Sofi
February 3, 2021

What did the war do to the minds of Yemenis!

Psychiatric patients in Taiz; the forgotten victims
Dhaifallah Al-Sofi
February 3, 2021

The war in Taiz did not only smash the bodies of fighters; Rather, it extended its arms over the psyches of many of the city’s residents, especially those who lived through the moments of war with its terrifying details, which led to the spread of depression and anxiety, to delirium and psychological disorders, among various segments of society.

Yemeni civilians had paid the war tax in one way or another, as it caused some direct damage, while it threw a larger number of them to the pavement of poverty, hunger and homelessness, and many of them are at the crossroads of just two pathways; either to die of starvation or end up in psychiatric clinic and neurological hospitals, a place that everyone is reluctant to visit, perhaps due to the fear that a visitor might be harmed or attacked by one of the patients. However, it has become a destination for a press visit to reveal part of what the war has done to the minds and souls of Yemenis.

Place: Psychiatric and Neurological Hospital in Al-Nour Medical City, west of Taiz City, time: January 2021; Patients with pale faces, some talking to themselves, others in a state of permanent silence and wandering which made the idea of approaching one of them and talking to him to find out what is behind his sadness seems very difficult task.

Mohammad and his forty-year-old father, standing behind an iron grille as if they were in a prison; both pale faces wander back and forth in their yard and in the hospital corridors.

"Do you have a cigarette? bring me a hundred riyals." With this phrase, Mohammad’s father answered when we asked him about his story, and the reason for being with his son’s hospitalization? He continued, "The warplanes bombed my house in Tha'abat, at the beginning of the war, and my wife and daughter died. Only my eldest son," and referred to Muhammad was saved.

 In a tone of sadness, the man adds: "We were homeless, we had no home or shelter, even our family did not accept us to live among them because we are "crazy". My brother brought me and my son here two years ago (2019)." In the face of this, one cannot help but wonder: Is this the day when a person abandons his brother?!

The war is still ongoing, and the suffering of many people continues with it, as killing, destruction and devastation are not all that happened to the population of this country, but nearly two-thirds of Yemenis are suffering from malnutrition or on the verge of starvation. This is confirmed by UN reports, as it revealed that twenty million Yemenis live below the poverty line while thousands have lost their jobs and income, public sector employees deprived of receiving their salaries and unemployment prevailed everywhere. Consequently, these social miseries have caused countless psychological illnesses to its victims.

Psychologists say that the number of cases of psychiatric patients increased by 30% during the war years than before. Majed Seif, a psychiatrist at the Neurological and Psychiatric Hospital in Taiz, confirms that there is a link between the increase in the number of patients and the deterioration of the living situation in Taiz.

It should be noted that the lack of opportunities for a decent human life is a serious problem faced by many residents in Taiz. Poverty and financial distress lead many to a feeling of self-loathing and constant depression, and then a loss of self-control, and sometimes suicide, according to hospital doctors.

“I graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, Sana’a University in 2017, and returned to my village, “Sabr.” There is no work and world closed its doors in my face. This is what Ahmed Al-Sabri (30 years old) says.

He added: "Hunger, poverty and frustration caused me depression. My financial condition deteriorated further, and I used to beat my wife and two children even I beat my mother who eventually forced my father to take me here three months ago."

Taiz mental hospital

The stories of these patients seem endless, and painful. In Al-Nour Hospital, there are 134 inmates in the inpatient department. They are divided into two sections: the first is called the general section, in which there are 110 cases, and the other is a special section, in which there are 24 cases, and this number is not including the patients who frequently visit the hospital for treatment.

The only difference between the two departments, according to Dr. Adel Melhi, director of the Hospital for Neurological and Psychiatric Diseases in Taiz, is that the patient’s family in the general department pays an amount of 700 riyals per day, while they pay 1,000 riyals if it is in the private department, and these amounts are delivered to the account of the Taiz Health Office in central bank.

Al-Noor Hospital receives between 10 to 20 cases per day, from Taiz and from other governorates such as Ibb and Hodeidah, because it is the only specialized hospital that is still working in its field at the level of the governorate and neighboring governorates. The latest statistics also indicate that the hospital received, during the last quarter of 2019 to 2021, more than 1,750 cases, all of them suffering from multiple mental illnesses.

This hospital is trying to operate beyond its capacity amid the extraordinary increase in the number of patients; But it could not provide full health care, due to the lack of resources and the scarcity of financial support.

Dr. Melhi added in his interview with "Khuyut": "We work according to our available resources. It is true that we do not provide the ideal service, but I cannot let a patient to leave the hospital without treatment, because the patient may receive 60% of psychological support in the hospital which is better than thrown out into the street, without care or services.”

Dr. Melhi continues: "Parents often contribute to the exacerbation of the problem of the mentally ill, as the parents do not bring the patient to the hospital for treatment, but rather to get rid of him and the burden he causes to them. The maximum services that the hospital provides to the patient includes; shelter, warmth, and food during his treatment period, and not housing, nor permanent shelter."

Dr. Melhi cites one of the cases as an example of parental neglect: “There is a case of a patient named Ghaleb Ali, who has been in the hospital for more than two years. Although permission was issued for him to leave, and we contacted with his parents several times to take their patient, but it turned out that they view the hospital as the only responsible body for the patient, and they put the burden on us while we have no resources.”

He points out that "some families leave the patient unattended, forcing the hospital administration to hand the patient over to the nearest police station or to the Sheikh of the neighborhood in which the patient's family resides, to deliver him to his family." He added: "Therefore, I believe there is a need to create a binding mechanism in which the patient come for treatment and the hospital is supported, and if the treatment period is completed, the relevant official authorities have to come to receive the patient."

The reality of these patients indicates that the hospital lacks the essential facilities and needs such a;s clothes, nutrition, treatment, water, hygiene and other needs. The monthly operating budget provided by the Health Office in Taiz is estimated at only one million and 400 thousand Yemeni riyals.

According to my Dr. Melhi, "This budget can cover the expenses of10 days of the month, as the daily meal for one patient costs one thousand riyals, and therefore we face a large deficit, sometimes some contributors cover part of the deficit by providing some support, but the deficit is still huge." 

A Hospital without medical staff

Outer view of the hospital building suggests luxury and well-equipped facility, with all the medical needs and equipment, but the truth is completely different. It lacks the sufficient medical staff, as the medical staff consists of three doctors and two nurses, and two contracted workers.

 Therefore, the hospital suffers from a shortage of medical staff, medical equipment, insufficient medication, poor nutrition, and simple psychological service. This is the reality of the hospital from the inside, which makes it unable to provide medical and psychological support services to patients, in addition to the lack of researchers and psychologists.

 In addition, medical sources indicate that the hospital needs at least 8 doctors and 20 nurses to work permanently. Despite the demands and requests for support submitted to the official authorities, including the Taiz Health Office; However, their request was met with disinterest, and this is what forced the hospital management to contract with unskilled labour to work as nurses for poor salaries.

As a result of the absence of the role of stakeholders and the local authority in Taiz, and the poor role of humanitarian organizations in supporting the psychological aspect, despite their large presence, this has doubled the suffering of psychiatric patients.

On the other hand, the Psychiatric Care Center of the United Nations Population Organization located near the hospital provides some treatments to patients in the inpatient department; But many patients complain about the staff in charge of this center who prevent patients from getting the necessary treatment on the grounds that the patients do not have the cards that entitle them to obtain medicines.

Mohamed's extraordinary story

"Mohammad Hadi" (according to the hospital administration's name) did not come to this hospital himself, and his family did not bring him either. Nevertheless, the fate brought him after a traffic accident while he was driving a car, after which he was unconscious and sane, and no one knew who he was.

According to dr. Melhi, "Muhammad was brought by the administration of Al-Thawra Hospital 17 years ago, and he was amnesiac and does not remember anything as a result of the accident he was exposed to, but the strange thing about him is that his family did not look for him until now, and we did not receive any report of a missing person, and so on. This patient will remain in the hospital for the rest of his life as he has no other home."

Some parents may forget their patients in the hospital in order to get rid of them; But there are those who do not forget them. Al-Hjah Maryam, or “Mother of the Poor” as they call her, in her fifties, for two decades she comes twice a week to visit the patients and check on them.

“For more than 20 years, I visit these patients every Monday and Thursday of the week, I consider them as my children, I give them bread and yogurt, or fried bread and vegetables, or dates, or fruits,” Maryam says.

And she added, "Parents throw their children here and leave them without mercy, even though these patients need more care than others." As Mary was visiting the inpatients, one by one, and talks to them, she asked us not to photograph her while she is offering them charitable assistance.

In conclusion, it is worth saying that the psychiatric patients in Taiz face an endless problem, the circle of their suffering is expanding day after day, as the war has taken its share, after which the deteriorating economic conditions have taken their largest share of their life then, if we may call it life, from distress to the most bitter and miserable suffering.

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