Mental Illness in Yemen Ascribed to Qat, Poverty, and Inbreeding

National Yemen

Qat Seller in a Qat market surrounded by buyers

Tahir Haider

Yemeni statistics reveal an increasing number of mentally afflicted persons—or as Yemenis commonly refer to them, “crazies”—as a result of Yemen’s economic conditions and social problems.

Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Dr. Amat alRazzaq Ali Hamad ascribes the uptick in psychological cases in Yemen to the difficult environment in which many Yemenis live. Some of these cases originate from central prisons throughout Yemen’s provinces, especially in Hodeidah and other regions of western Yemen. Other patients are kept in sanatoria which lack modern equipment and necessary medications.

Dr. Amat al Razzaq expresses concern over the increasing number of psychological patients because Yemen lacks special facilities to treat them, and given their financial, many cannot pay for expensive mandated treatment. However, Dr. Haidar Ibrahim Alawi, a Jordan psychiatric and neurological consultant who works in Sana’a, refers the increase in psychological cases to a study published in 2009 on the connection between Qat-chewing, inbreeding, and poverty to unemployment and family tensions. According to Dr. Alawi, chewing Qat alone can cause reduced absorption of anti-psychotic drugs by the human body.

On other hand, sometimes Qat-chewing increases absorption of substances which may themselves cause psychological illness. Qat contains amphetamines, which are stimulants capable of causing hallucinations. Chewing Qat, says Dr. Alawi, could cause psychotic diseases itself.

In addition, some mental illnesses are hereditary, including psychosis, schizophrenia, and mania. These conditions are found more commonly within close families, which suggest their prevalence may be the result of inbreeding.

Dr. Mohammed al-Tashi, a mental illness specialist mentioned that in an almost certain statistical studies, there are about 1.5 million Yemeni psychological patients, including 500,000 mental patients, and there are only about 50 psychiatrists distributed throughout Yemen’s provinces.

Dr. al-Tashi said that in his study, the number of the visitors to the psychiatric clinic in public and private hospitals reaches more than 150,000 comparing to 25,000 visitors in the mid-eighties.

Most of Yemen’s “crazies” are distributed in the poor cities as Taiz, Hodeidah, and Ibb; fewer psychological cases are cited in Lahij, Al Mukalla, and Sana’a.

According to a recent statistical survey, psychological cases in Hodeidah increased during the last six months at the Asalam Psychological hospital. The hospital witnessed in that time almost 468 thousand cases from different parts of Yemen, particularly neighboring provinces.

The poorest people in Yemen live in Hodeidah province, whose population is 2.5 million.

Care for Yemen’s mentally afflicted is not just the work of hospitals. A group of youths in Ibb province established the first Yemeni campaign of its kind aimed to assist psychological patients in the streets of the city. Participants helped clean, wash, and clothe the patients where throughout the streets of the city.