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Where hyenas are used to treat mental illness

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  • Where hyenas are used to treat mental illness

    Where hyenas are used to treat mental illness
    By Richard Hooper
    BBC World Service

    Patient in Somalia mental hospital with chain on leg

    Somalia has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world and with a healthcare system devastated by years of war, most sufferers receive no medical help. Many are chained up - to trees or at home. Some are even locked in cages with hyenas. But one man is trying to change all that.

    Dr Hab's advert runs up to three times a day on Mogadishu's radio stations.

    "He's gone crazy! He's running away!" screams the actor. "Chain him down!"

    The scenario is familiar in Somalia. A man has become possessed by spirits and the only option for his family is to restrain him and call the sheikh. But as the young man protests, a voice that challenges Somali tradition booms out.

    "Stop with the chains!" the voiceover orders. "Take him to Dr Hab's hospital! If he's having mental problems, take him to Dr Hab. He won't chain him, he'll help him."

    Dr Hab is not actually a real psychiatrist. Rather it's the persona of Abdirahman Ali Awale, a nurse who after three months of specialist training from the World Health Organization (WHO), has made it his mission to rescue Somalia's mentally ill. He claims he is able to treat everything from post-natal depression to schizophrenia.

    But the alternative to a trip to Hab could be a visit to one of Somalia's popular herbalists or sheikhs who still advocate traditional - and sometimes barbaric - cures.


    Hyena in East Africa - file photo

    "There is a belief in my country that hyenas can see everything including the evil spirits people think cause mental illness," says Hab. "So in Mogadishu, you will find hyenas that have been brought from the bush and families will pay £350 ($560) to have their loved one locked in the room overnight with the animal."

    The expensive treatment - more than the average annual wage - is as brutal as it sounds. By clawing and biting at the patient, the hyena is thought to force the evil spirit out. Patients, including young children, have been known to die during the process.

    "We are trying to show people that this is nonsense," says Hab. "People listen to our radio advert and they learn that mental illness is just like any other and needs to be treated with scientific methods."

    Hab's campaign was prompted by an incident in 2005 when he witnessed a group of female patients being chased through the streets by youths. "There was no-one to help them," he says. "I decided after that I would have to open Somalia's first mental hospital."

    The Habeb Public Mental Health Hospital in Mogadishu became the first of Hab's six centres across Somalia. Together, they have now treated over 15,000 patients.

    There were only three practising psychiatrists in the whole of Somalia at the last count, and Hab - despite his lack of advanced qualifications - is head of what has become the country's leading provider of mental health services. He even carries a letter from the minister of health that says so.

    Hab faces a near insurmountable task. WHO estimates that one in three Somalis either is or has been affected by mental illness, compared to a global average of one in 10. In parts of the country, where the population has been the most psychologically scarred from decades of conflict, the rate is even higher. Cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are common and the situation is further complicated by widespread substance abuse.

    "Khat is a big, big problem," says Hab of the herbal stimulant which has been chewed for centuries in East Africa. Side effects are thought to include anxiety and even psychosis. "We treat them in the hospital and they leave, but then they start eating khat again. Sometimes I see the same patients seven or eight times."

    Western aid agencies in Somalia have often promoted projects targeting communicable diseases, not least because results are quicker and cheaper to obtain. Hab, meanwhile, says he is left to run his organisation with minimal resources and an erratic supply of psychotropic medicines that he sources from NGOs and private pharmacies.

    Even getting sufferers to recognise that their condition constitutes an illness is difficult. Psychological problems are more likely to be reported by Somalis as physical pain - headaches, sweating, and chest pain. Some concepts of mental illness do not even exist in Somali culture - depression, for example, translates as "the feelings a camel has when its friend dies".
    I have sometime wondered about the mental illness that must result from brutal wars that relentlessly target civilians - especially little girls and very young women.

    BBC
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

  • #2
    If you put a mentally ill man in a cage with a Hyena and the Hyena is missing in the morning is he cured?

    If it pays, it stays

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Frostbit View Post
      If you put a mentally ill man in a cage with a Hyena and the Hyena is missing in the morning is he cured?
      I think at that point the guy becomes a highly paid witch doctor and all-around hyena expert.

      This makes Edwardian water therapy look like a vacation.
      "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Gingersnap View Post
        I think at that point the guy becomes a highly paid witch doctor and all-around hyena expert.

        This makes Edwardian water therapy look like a vacation.
        Some therapy graduates....

        If it pays, it stays

        Comment


        • #5
          Good Lord! People make.....pets?....weapons?.......out of them? It seems like that would be like carrying around a rattlesnake to make a statement.
          "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Gingersnap View Post
            Good Lord! People make.....pets?....weapons?.......out of them? It seems like that would be like carrying around a rattlesnake to make a statement.
            Does make your gangbanger with a pitbull look a little foolish eh?

            The one presently residing in stasis in my home probably went 160 pounds. All muscle and teeth.
            If it pays, it stays

            Comment


            • #7
              I suppose there are worse things to be caged with. Baboons, maybe. Perhaps cobras, though I'd guess it's a little tough to keep them in a cage.
              Bask in the warmth of the Deep South
              No one will be denied:
              Big law suits and bathroom toots;
              We're all getting Dixie-fried.
              But somewhere Hank and Lefty
              Are rollin' in their graves
              While kudzu vines grow over signs that read "Jesus Saves."

              Comment

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