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Mental Health in Sudan

Mental Health in SudanSeveral studies highlight that decades of violence and conflict in Sudan have significantly impacted the mental health of its citizens. Yet, suitable mental health care in the country is lacking, prompting action from organizations to improve mental health in Sudan.

Mental Health in Numbers

In Sudan, most mental health service providers are centralized in the capital of Khartoum. A barrier to mental health care access is the location of psychiatric hospitals — out of 18 states of the country only 12 states have “fully-equipped psychiatric hospitals” managed by qualified psychiatric personnel. Of these hospitals, six are located in Khartoum and the other six states are “managed by non-specialist medical doctors or by clinical psychologists and medical assistants,” a study, published in 2020, by Abdelgadir H. M. Osman and others says.

According to the Mental Health Atlas 2020, Sudanese people struggling with mental conditions pay for mental health care services and related medicines “mostly or entirely out of pocket.” Sudan has 34 psychiatrists, 425 psychologists and 366 social workers. Very few psychiatrists operate in Sudan’s rural areas. In total, as of 2020, 878 professionals across public, private and NGO sectors manage mental health in Sudan.

Many young doctors opt to move abroad to further their knowledge, experience and salaries. This causes a shortage of health professionals, who are often stretched beyond their capacity. Illustrating this, data shows that Sudan has only 2.05 total mental health professionals per 100,000 people in a country with a population of nearly 45 million people.

Sudan’s GDP in 2021 stood at about $34 billion. In 2020, Sudan spent about 6.5% of its GDP, equal to 1.7 billion, on health care with no specific allocation for a mental health budget.

Mental Health Policies

Although Sudan drafted a Mental Health Act in 1998, the Sudanese parliament approved it 10 years later in June 2018. Sudan’s mental health policy, which was last published in 2008, centers around the following guidelines: “developing a mental health component in primary healthcare, scaling up human resources, involvement of patients and their families, strengthening advocacy, promotion of the human rights protection of patients, equity and access to mental healthcare services across different groups, quality improvement, financing and monitoring systems.”

In 2009, Sudan developed a policy to restructure the mental health care system in the nation. Leading psychiatrists in Sudan participated in developing these documents and Sudan received technical support from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The cost of medication in a low-income country leaves a majority of civilians in need when having to choose between basic necessities and medicine for their mental health. Additionally, the stigma surrounding mental health makes people more reluctant to seek help. For instance, for women in Sudan, mental health issues “can lead to their family restricting their social presence” and mental health struggles can “[diminish] their opportunity to marry,” according to an article by WagingPeace.

The International Organization for Migration

In 2022, the International Organization for Migration’s EU-IOM Joint Initiative celebrated World Mental Health Day by carrying out community-based Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) activities in states within Gedaref and Khartoum. The IOM recognizes that foreign migrants, returnees and internally displaced persons face the most barriers to accessing mental health care in Sudan.

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative held a seminar to educate as many as 60 people on the importance of mental health care. The initiative also held a three-day mental health campaign via radio in three local languages.

Additionally, the initiative held a football match for 200 young people in Gedaref to raise awareness of mental health and encourage participation in sports and physical activities to maintain positive mental health.

Furthermore, the IOM held three focus group discussions that highlighted barriers to mental health access and how the IOM can play a role in addressing these challenges. The organization also provided mental health information to students at Gedaref University and supplied information on safe migration.

Looking Ahead

NGOs and other health organizations are working toward facilitating a better understanding of mental health for civilians of Sudan. By increasing the number of trained mental health care professionals and establishing additional mental health care facilities, especially in the more rural areas, mental health in Sudan can improve.

– Amin Isameldin Amin
Photo: Flickr