Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Being mentally ill in Libya must be pure hell.

Why is it such a big taboo to be treated for mental illness in Libya? I find it so strange that people here are left to sit and suffer because their families think that admitting to mental illness and seeking help is just unacceptable. There are also those who will put off mental illness as being possessed by jinn and evil spirits and they will run back and forth to various 'sheikhs' to have the spirits removed by exorcism.

In America you often see homeless people who obviously suffer from mental illness. Here you sometimes see mentally ill in the streets but I don't think they are homeless, just being let out to roam free by families who have either given up or are in a stage of denial. Of course this is being made worse by the numerous heroin addicts that hang around all over town. I've got scores of them lurking about right on my street - buying themselves a fix from the local drug dealers and then waiting around until they can either buy another fix or find a friend willing to share. It's not only sad, but scary too. Young men with wasted lives; lack of any treatment programs complicates their problems.

Mental illness knows no gender. Females are affected as well, but their families deal with them differently. Usually they are kept at home, hidden from view. Sometimes you hear of girls committing suicide, usually hanging themselves. Occasionally if they aren't severely ill they are let out to mix and blend with society in the hopes that the interaction with 'normal people' will cure them.

I have a student in one of my classes who fits this category. She is like an empty shell, sitting in my classroom in a catatonic state. In the beginning I tried to include her in the discussions and activities, but it was hopeless. She quietly takes up space and we all basically just ignore her now. In the beginning I felt guilty doing this; teachers always want to do the best for all their students. But this girl doesn't need a teacher . . . she needs something I can never give her.

Yesterday her mother appeared at my door. She was a beautiful woman who was well dressed, looked in her mid 40's, seemed intelligent and was clearly fairly wealthy. She asked me how her daughter was doing and I told her I didn't think she was going to gain anything from the course. I asked her what the problem was. The girl's mother said that her daughter was always 'the top' in all her classes at school but in her final year at university she got a poor mark in one of her classes and she became 'sick'. She managed to finish university and now they were hoping that if she took this course it would help her to overcome her problems. I asked if she was under any kind of treatment and was told no. 'Please keep her in the class and try to motivate her in some way.' was the mother's plea. I told the woman she was just wasting her money but she was adamant that it would be good for her daughter. I said, 'Sigh . . . Ok, as long as she isn't disruptive.'

My life has many roles... mother, wife, teacher, blogger, secretary, and apparently I'm a social worker too.


  1. Seeking help is just out of the question, cause most people think it being a curse. As for the sheikhs who are presumed to cure (doing great moneywise)is purely rubbish.Libyans tend to use this method of so called 'help' for the mentally ill as a last and only solution. For the drug addicts it's the same story all over the world.What is needed are programmes such as A.A.and ALANON and similar which would benefit our people.Interaction with normal people will never cure them .Medical treatment and public awarenes programmes are needed. Nothing else.
    For the roles you play Dearest Khadija you are to be admired.May Allah help you.

  2. Thanks 7mada we really need all the support we can get. tr

  3. Ignorance is what I call all this,I haven’t spent many years in Hospitals ,but for three years now studying at most of Tripoli’s hospitals I've seen things that made me sure about that.
    Parents denying that this illness of their son or daughter is because of psychiatric problem , no one accepts the reality and they all try as you said to escape it and go with Jinn .

    In infectious diseases department I saw the stories of young men and women with HIV most of them are drug addicts and when you hear their stories you always find this big hole of family problems.

    children with hearing disorders are badly treated at home or at school , just because he have hearing problem and he cant join the rest of the class on answering the question his great teacher sends him to the last raw with the rest of the lazy students which I am sure they only have some other mental or physical problem so he will get worse and worse .

    the problem is not that people doesn’t know but they don’t want to accept the fact of Mental Illness, Mental Illness is a disease and they just think it’s hopeless case .

  4. Yes Hamed it is ignorance I agree.Educating people isn't enough .The only thing that will help is public awareness. .We have many educted people who behave ignorantly........

  5. I think the problem exists the other way around, too. I´ve seen too many girls being labelled "mentally ill" - because they refuse a marriage, or because they are kept like animals in their room or because they have been beaten up every day of their lives. Once family spreads the word that "she is crazy", no one will want to help. The doctor gives her valium because Mum and Dad tell him "she suddenly went crazy" - but the reason for much "mental illness" is often pure psychological abuse from the family. I´ve seen too much of such girls; a neighbouring girl tried suicide, when at the hospital she felt fine and was quite "normal", as soon as her family picked her up and shipped her home, she "went crazy" again.

    The issue of girls "gone crazy for apperant no reason" is not much talked about.
    Yeah, sure some people are actually mentally ill, but we should not forget that some (mostly girls) aren´t but are labelled as such for convinience.

  6. Lybianwarrior - subhan'allah! for a Libyan you sure sound like a redneck. Please take the weird test - I want to see your results.

  7. i agree with the horrible life that the mentally ill have to lead in Libya...I have a distant relative, who has MAJOR depression, and she is just left alone in her room...no one goes to see her, and they just always say they tried to get a shaikh to help her, but it didnt work. Little do they know that Allah (SWT) will question them on this on the day of judgement, of not helping her.
    Another issue that is a taboo in lots of socities, but is actually quite predominant in Libya is sexual abuse...some of the stories I heard when i was visiting a couple of years ago were quite horrible, then there are the girls who are abused by a prominent male relative, and when they tell their families, it is dismissed as a '7ala nafsiya'.
    Libyanwarrior, its true we need to change stuff...but having a beating police and lynching people wont really solve the problem. I also dont know enough about the plight of the amazigh people, but I think it was the Arabs that brought Islam to the Amazigh, didnt they? Allah guides whomever he wills. I dont think the Arabs are the problem, more like corrupt leadership and society.

  8. Suffering for deeds done over years to each other, society gets what it deserves.


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