Number of depressed young Yemenis is increasing [Archives:2008/1185/Reportage]

August 28 2008

Bashir Al-Selwi
For The Yemen Times

“I'm in a dark tunnel alone. No one can imagine what happens to me every day,” describes 23-year-old Sana'a University student Khader Al-Selwi, who was diagnosed with depression five years ago.

“I can't work and I dislike living anymore. I hope to die today before tomorrow because it's better than living without any hope in this life. Someday, I'll kill my self and terminate my life and pain,” he adds.

Al-Selwi is among many young Yemenis who are subject to depression.

Yemeni doctors confirm the increased number of Yemenis afflicted with depression, calling for rapid solutions, saying that depression has become a serious and widespread problem among Yemenis due to the country's economic and social situations.

Dr. Fikri Al-Naib, a consulting psychiatrist and medical director at Al-Amal Psychiatric Hospital, confirms that depression mostly appears in those between ages 18 and 40.

They may exhibit such symptoms as evident sadness, anxiousness, depression, tiredness, fatigue, everything seemingly is an effort, slowed movements, walking during the night or too early in the morning, oversleeping or trouble getting to sleep, slow thinking, poor concentration, forgetfulness or indecisiveness, loss of interest in food, work and/or sex, life seems dull, a reduced sense of self-worth, low self-esteem or guilt, headaches, chest or other pains with no physical basis, not wanting to live and suicidal thoughts or thinking about death.

Depression is a condition that can take many forms aside from the short-lived feelings of sadness that most people experience in response to the disappointments of everyday life.

“A feeling of farness and feeling like someone is extracting my soul from my body. I sometimes feel like I'll collapse on the street,” 24-year-old Salim Naji says, describing some of the symptoms he feels during a fit of depression.

He went on to say that the tiredness he feels sometimes forces him to sleep on the streets.

“I sometimes sleep on the street or I can't sleep at all at night because I'm in a bad mood all of the time. Most of the time, I feel like something is going to swallow me and then I start screaming, 'Help me! Help me!'” he said.

Dr. Al-Naib points out that, “Qat somehow plays role in increasing depression among Yemeni youths, especially those who chew qat constantly. Nevertheless, there are no studies in Yemen proving the relationship between qat and depression.”

Fellow Al-Amal Hospital psychologist Khalid Al-Shamiri explains that qat improves and relieves moods temporarily as the chewer begins to feel happy and seemingly has the ability to solve problems and establish his own projects and future plans.

However, by the end of the qat session, some areas of the brain become lethargic and the body starts losing its vitality and power. In this stage, the qat chewer starts to feel bad and upset and can't communicate with others because the respiratory and cardiac centers in the brain's medulla are affected, which eventually could render the chewer comatose.

Al-Naib notes that the causes of depression among Yemenis are poor financial circumstances and unemployment.

Dr. Najla'a Al-Afif, a psychotherapist at Al-Azal Hospital, adds that lack of communication among family members can be another reason behind the increasing cases of depression among young Yemenis.

Referring to scientific studies and research, Al-Naib says females generally tend more toward depression than males. “Yemeni women are more exposed to social stress; for instance, domestic violence or an inability to study or work unless a male relative approves, in addition to some medications – like contraception pills – which can cause depression as a side effect,” he explains.

Although gender does play an important role in diagnosing depression, Al-Naib points out that it doesn't affect treatment for depression as much as the individual's acceptance of taking medication and the prescribed time period for that.

He further notes that there are no statistics estimating depression rates among Yemenis, but doctors maintain that female Yemenis experience more depression symptoms than males.

“Based on our experiences, we estimate that 15 percent of young male Yemenis and 20 percent of young females are afflicted by depression, meaning that 1 in 5 Yemeni females suffers from depression,” Al-Naib asserts.

Most depressed individuals also experience physical symptoms, such as chest, back and/or joint pain.

“If someone starts to complain about any type of pain, parents or relatives immediately should send him or her to see a doctor,” Al-Naib says, speaking about the late stages of depression among many patients who visit or see a psychologist only after depression has taken over their minds and reached a high level.

“People don't believe in psychological problems, instead preferring to go to a magician rather than a psychological doctor,” he added.

Al-Naib also highlights the fact that there is an inadequate number of psychiatric hospitals in Yemen because there are no laws forcing hospitals to open departments for psychological treatment or diagnosis. “Therefore, this puts pressure on specialist hospitals in this field, but we can't take all patients due to a shortage of beds.”

Dr. Al-Afif emphasizes that depression can be cured, “However if we ignore it, it may lead patients to kill themselves, as more than 15 percent of patients suffering depression kill themselves. But gloom rarely causes patients to become insane.”

She warns that depressed individuals are more susceptible to serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, blood pressure and colds due to weakness of their immune system during periods of depression.

Al-Afif believes the Yemeni government should establish psychological units at every school to diagnose and deal with students' psychological problems from the beginning. “Doing so would yield many good results by reducing future depression rates among youths.”

She concludes, “Depression affects our national economy because it attacks society's productive segment, thereby creating economic problems.”