Yemen is currently enduring one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history. War, poverty and disease run rampant throughout the country. Around 1.8 million children suffer from acute malnutrition in Yemen, 400,000 of which are life-threatening cases. The Yemeni people face daily exposure to stress and violence in the form of Saudi-led airstrikes, Houthi detention camps, closed airports, poverty, starvation and cholera. This can impact childhood mental health in Yemen.
5 Things to Know about Childhood Mental Health in Yemen
- Lack of mental healthcare – There is a dire lack of mental healthcare providers in Yemen. Mental health services are only available in 21% of Yemen’s health facilities. As of February 2019, there are about 0.17 psychologists per 100,000 Yemenis. Save the Children reported that only two child psychiatrists are available for the whole of Yemen and only one mental health nurse is available for every 300,000 people.
- Safety and childhood mental health – A recent survey from Save the Children shows that 52% of children in Yemen never feel safe when they are away from their parents. The survey also showed that 56% of children never feel safe when walking alone and 36% of children never feel like they can talk to someone in their community if they are sad or upset. In addition, around 38% of caregivers report a recent increase in children’s nightmares.
- Malnourishment and brain development – Half of Yemeni children under 5 experience chronic malnourishment. This has a direct negative impact on brain development and will impact generations of Yemenis. Stunted brain development and the neglect of childhood mental health in Yemen will, according to Columbia Law School, “affect family structures, social cohesion, physical and emotional health, educational outcomes and reduce the ability to find peaceful solutions to conflict.”
- Since December 2017, violence from the Yemeni conflict has maimed or killed 2,047 children. Children throughout Yemen grieve family and friends killed by airstrikes every day. Living in these violent and stressful situations will not only have longterm effects on mental health but on physical health as well. High levels of prolonged stress can increase blood cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Consequently, children growing up in this environment are more vulnerable to chronic diseases like heart conditions in later life.
- People are doing something about it. The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies’ objective is to foster change through spreading knowledge–focusing specifically on Yemen and the surrounding area. The Sana’a Center partnered with the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic to bring attention to the mental health crisis in Yemen at the 2018 United Nations convention in Geneva. The two organizations pushed for an international response and also laid out a suggested plan for the Yemeni government. The plan called for the government to create a national mental health policy, ensure budget allocation for mental health services, reopen the Sana’a airport and pay salaries for public health sectors. Unfortunately, the crisis in Yemen led to the suspension of any government efforts to implement national mental health policies and no changes have yet been made.
The first step to a brighter future in Yemen is understanding the problems the Yemeni people face daily. Childhood mental health in Yemen is easy to overlook, but today’s children are tomorrow’s negotiators of peace. They are tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, teachers and politicians. The sooner the government can begin efforts to create a national mental health policy, the sooner the community can come together to ensure healthier and happier lives for the children of Yemen.
– Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik