Health experts say mental health crisis has gripped Yemen, where only 40 psychiatrists are left to cure tens of thousands of people suffering from heart and mental diseases caused by post-traumatic stress disorder.
TAIZ, Yemen — Mohammed al-Sinwi, a refugee worker in Saudi Arabia, visited his family in Sanaa in December, hoping to catch up with them after a gap of four years.
A 36-year-old father of two daughters, Sinwi did not visit Yemen during the war, which started in March 2015. A lot had changed when he returned to his home country. His wife and daughters had fled their hometown in Taiz and settled in Sanaa, which is slightly safer than other war-ravaged cities.
Sinwi's family, as other families in Sanaa, had grown accustomed to the sound of Saudi-led airstrikes, but Sinwi wasn't used to hearing loud blasts.
When Sinwi arrived at his house in Sanaa, he only enjoyed life for two days, and then heavy bombing targeted the house of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a few kilometres away from his home.
"As we heard the sound of the explosion, my husband fainted," Sinwi's wife Seham told TRT World.
"Doctors told us the loud blast left him in shock, increased his blood pressure."
Sinwi recovered and Seham took him to his sister's house. The two families counselled him about how to get used to deafening, earth shattering bomb blasts.
Sinwi didn't recover fully, however.
"He soon developed a heart disease. His blood pressure went out of control and his diabetes got worse," Seham said.
Three days later, Sinwi died.
"My husband was healthy when he came back from Saudi. He did not suffer from any disease. It's the trauma caused by constant bombing, and the shock of bombing led him to his death."
The war in Yemen will enter its fourth year in April this year. As of now, the conflict has claimed at least 10,000 lives, according to the United Nations.
The high-intensity conflict has led to nationwide psychological trauma, an issue that has largely been neglected by both domestic authorities and the international community.
As per the recent mental health report compiled by Columbia University, Yemeni officials and medical experts have raised serious concerns about "rising suicide rates, and increases in reports of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder".
When the war broke out in Taiz in April 2015, Hasna al-Qadasi, 22, a student at the English department at Taiz University, stopped her studies because she feared she might be caught in rampant shelling and gun fights.
But a year later in March, the Houthi militias attacked the neighbourhood with rockets and bombshells. The house next to Hasna came under Houthi fire, killing three people inside.
The loud, frightful bombings left a deep psychological impact on her, and Hasna lost her speech.
"When the shelling hit our neighbourhood, I was at home and I ran out to help the victims," Abdul Monem, Hasna's brother, recalled.
"A few minutes later, my mother called me back. She told me Hasna was in deep shock, unable to utter a word."
Abdul Monem took Hansa to several doctors and psychiatrists. Most of them said she may regain her speech after overcoming trauma.
"They said there is no medicine to cure loss of speech," Monem told TRT World.
Hasna's behaviour has also changed. "Sometimes she is normal, sometimes she behaves like a child," Monem said.
Hasna's family has exhausted all its savings for her treatment. Her mother even sold her jewellery to support her daughter's medical needs.
"There is no one to help," Monem said.
Lack of psychologists
Isam al-Mohammadi is one of the few psychologists in Taiz. He said most of the patients he sees come from poor families.
"Women and children are worst hit," Mohammadi said.
The small number of psychologists adds to the mental health crisis in the country. "There are less than 100 psychologists around the country," Mohammadi said. "And many of these psychiatrists have left Yemen in ones and twos."
As per, the World Health Organisation (WHO) there are only 40 psychiatrists working in the country.
Fadhl al-Thobhani, a professor of sociology at Taiz University, said the lack of research and information on the people who are dying from psychological trauma is one of the primary reasons why the local government, or aid agencies, aren't responding to the crisis.
"When bombshells fall on a residential area, people run to help the injured. The people who suffer from shock and trauma are their last priority," Thobhani told TRT World.
Though UNICEF is working with the local administration in Taiz to provide mental health support for children, the scale of the crisis is unprecedented.
According to the agency's report released in 2017, at least 10 million Yemeni children face fear, pain and deprivation due to the war. They are not only vulnerable to the dangers of bombings, but also to several Iran-backed militias that have been waging war against the Saudi-backed government. These militias are recruiting child soldiers in large numbers. The UN has recorded 1,500 cases of children below the age of 18 being recruited in the war in the last two years.
Adults are also exposed to constant risk of losing their psychological balance. There are tens of thousands of Yemanis, according to WHO, who had pre-existing psychiatric issues prior to the war. But their illness levels have gone up to dangerous margins due to "displacement, abandonment and lack of access to mental health services."