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Malnourished Minds

posted on: Sep 13, 2023

Rock Window, Yemen. Credit: Wiki Commons.

By: Saba Jobah / Contributing Writer

Yemen is a war effected country so brutalized, even the youth have not been spared of the brutal war. The war itself, the government not prioritizing mental health, and the pre-existing social stigma all played a factor in creating a mental health emergency within Yemen. More specifically, 55% children were found to be sad or depressed. And the 79% of school-aged children in Sana’a reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Alhariri, et al.)

Civil War & Poverty

As a third-world country, Yemen has been well accustomed to poverty, absence of basic services, and government neglect from fraud and abuse. However, these factors in specific were worsened by the Civil War combined with the involvement of foreign states. Alhariri, et al.  states, “Only 51% of all health facilities are fully functional, health care workers’ salaries have gone largely unpaid, and essential medications are in short supply.” The mental health industry within Yemen can be seen suffering from infrastructural issues. Pre-existing issues are to be blamed but the current weakened state of the industry has been caused by the war.

Corruption in Yemeni Government

The government shamelessly turned their backs on their countrymen’s countless needs including mental health to feed their greed. For example, “… the Yemeni government largely ignored its legal responsibilities to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to mental health.” (Alhariri, et al.).  Countless government officials have been exposed to be corrupt, including the President himself at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Aljazeers details that, “Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president, is believed to have amassed between $32bn and $60bn through corruption during his 33 years in power, a UN report has said.”. Those billions of dollars were shamelessly snatched away from an already impoverished country by a tyrant too busy vacationing to care for the health and well-being of Yemenis.

Cultural Stigma of Mental Illness

Speaking of shame, mental health issues are associated with witchcraft, crimes, and deviance. Therefore, if those with mental health issues publicly disclose their conditions or seek help then they are thought of as a shameful stain in the family’s reputation. And therefore individual in need of assistance gets neglected. Furthermore, “This stigma has contributed to a belief that mental health hospitals are only for people who are out of control and that persons with mental health needs should be kept apart from the rest of society.” (Alhariri, et al.). Unfortunately, this type of cultural perspective drives people who are overdue for a doctor’s visit to be scared away by internalized and societal stigma.

Program Aid

National Mental Health Strategy, 2011-2015. Credit: Library of Congress.

The Ministry of Public Health and Population and the Social Development Fund is an organization that sought to tackle the issue of stigma with the National Mental Health Strategy from 2011 to 2015. The organization got to work by developing “destigmatization media campaigns using well-known public figures… and begin dialogues with religious and traditional healers on the reduction of harmful treatment practices.”. The project was hitting the most critical points with strategic planning. The momentum of the project was picking up. To ensure the success of the plan the organization also worked with nonprofit organizations to provide services.

Further Assistance

Due to the unrest the strategy was unfortunately abandoned, and the Yemeni people continued to suffer. On the brighter side, this matter was not completely abandoned. Whilst the assistance is weak, there is still aid going into Yemen’s fight for mental health. “The UN—a main donor of the Ministry of Public Health and Population—has raised less than half of the US$3.85 billion necessary to fully fund the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen.” (Alhariri, et al.).

The Results of the Aid

Evidently the resources are still lacking. However, it is not a sign to give up, but rather it serves as encouragement to fill the half-full cup. A patient of an MSF mental health clinic states, “After having isolated myself for so long, I started taking walks and visiting my friends and family. I attend these sessions three times per week. My story is a living proof that hope still exists.” (Rebuilding People’s Lives in Yemen through Mental Health Support: MSF).

The Future of Yemen

The Yemeni people have an unwavering light of hope for a peace of mind. But that light is bound to shrivel in size and God-forbid Yemen will be left in the dark. First and foremost, politics should never starve a child of a healthy life. Instead, shame should be redirected onto those that deny much needed mental health services. Foreign entities need to find their borders and Yemeni government officials need to return home and get to work. With accountability the Yemeni people can live at ease rather than fight for every breath.

Work Cited

2022, Project Update10 October. “Rebuilding People’s Lives in Yemen through Mental Health Support: MSF.” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International, Accessed 25 July 2023.

Alhariri, Waleed, et al. “The Right to Mental Health in Yemen: A Distressed and Ignored Foundation for Peace.” Health and Human Rights, June 2021,

“Un Says Ex-Yemen President Saleh Stole up to $60bn.” United Nations News | Al Jazeera, 25 Feb. 2015,

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