Despite its emergence in 1966 in the south – and 10-years later in the north – the field of psychotherapy lags behind other health disciplines in Yemen. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were only four qualified mental health hospitals in Yemen in 2011.
With Yemen’s ongoing protracted war since 2015, and with most people traumatized, the need for psychosocial support has multiplied.
Dr. Sami Al-Arabi, Psychiatry and Addiction Consultant in Al-Amal Psychiatric Hospital in Sana’a, elaborates. “People are normally affected by the stresses of daily life without the severe trauma experienced by war. But women and children are particularly affected by war and its traumas. Unfortunately, right now, psychological care in Yemen is very poor.”
The number of hospitals offering proper psychological treatment is limited to seven major cities, and there are only 50 – 70 doctors specializing in psychotherapy in Yemen.
Dr. Abdulla Al-Sharabi, Consultant and Head of the Psychiatry Department in Al-Thawrah Public Hospital in Sana'a, emphasizes the negative impact of the social stigma issue in Yemen saying "People are ashamed when they are referred to psychiatric treatment. They would rather go to a charlatan to get treated instead.”
To improve access to the most-needed psychosocial support services, the Social Fund for Development (SFD) implements psychosocial support trainings under the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Social Protection for Community Resilience Project (SPCRP). The European Union (EU)-funded project aims to train the medical staff working in vulnerable governorates to provide initial care and guidance.
Participants in the training are mainly medical staff from various districts of the most vulnerable governorates: Hajja, Hodeida and Taiz. They are trained in the essential skills and primary principles of psychiatric care to help alleviate patient suffering, especially those in remote locations.
One of the midwife participants, Ms. Hayat Mohammed, indicated “I can now diagnose common mental health issues in my community and will use my new skills to focus on female patients.”
Another training participant, Mr. Yahya Zeih from the Al Hodeidah Governorate, emphasized the knowledge they gained. “We have learned how to differentiate between depression and anxiety, stress and those who have been exposed to serious traumas. Thankfully, I can now do something about it,” he said.
"Training the medical staff not only improves access to services, but also raises community awareness of the importance of psychiatric care. It will help reduce the social stigma associated with the psychiatric treatment in Yemen, an important reason why the training was designed in the first place,” according to Dr. Mohammed Al-Ashwal, Psychiatry and Addiction Consultant in Al-Amal Psychiatric Hospital, the programme trainer.
The Social Protection for Community Resilience Project (SPCRP) is funded and supported by the European Union (EU) and implemented in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and The Social Fund for Development (SFD). The USD$28 million SPCRP enhances the purchasing capacity of vulnerable communities while restoring community infrastructure and improving access to and delivery of key services through short-term employment, provision of solar energy equipment, rehabilitating healthcare facilities, and building the capacities of communities and local authorities.