The Deadly Somali Cure For Mental Illness

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?” —Miguel de Cervantes, “Man of La Mancha”

In A Nutshell

One in three Somalis suffer from some form of mental illness, but unfortunately, their symptoms are usually mistaken for demonic possession. As a result, they are tossed into cages with hyenas, creatures which can supposedly drive the spirits away. However, one man nicknamed “Dr. Hab” is trying to end this barbaric practice and open mental health hospitals across the country.

The Whole Bushel

Looking for a new vacation destination? Well, you better stay away from Somalia. According to the Global Peace Index, as of 2013, Somalia is the second most dangerous country in the world, second only to Afghanistan. This war-torn country is rife with violence, corruption, and drug addiction (thanks primarily to a narcotic known as “khat”), and all this anarchy is taking a toll on the Somali people, both physically and psychologically. A staggering one in three Somalis suffer from some form of mental illness, and this is especially shocking when you realize the global average of mental illness is one in 10. And thanks to extreme poverty and lack of a central government, there aren’t many doctors or hospitals to help people with psychiatric diseases. Desperate for answers, superstitious Somalis have had to come up with cures on their own, and some of them are a little . . . drastic.

Many Somalis don’t view mental illness as a disease. Instead, they believe it’s a form of demonic possession. As a result, “healers” focus on ways of driving the evil spirit out, and these rituals involve a lot of pain and torture. Perhaps the most sadistic treatment is the “hyena cure.” Some Somalis believe hyenas are mystical creatures, able to peer into the spirit world, so people suffering from psychiatric disorders are often tossed into cells where they are “examined” by these four-legged “doctors.” Hyenas don’t care for humans who invade their territory, and they will viciously attack their unlucky victims, scratching and biting them, but then that’s the whole point of the treatment. Many believe the hyena is using its magical powers to chase the demons away, and if the “patient” survives till morning (and many, especially children, don’t), he or she is supposedly cured. However, most people can’t afford this costly cure which runs about $500 (that’s more than most Somali families make in an entire year). Those who can’t pay for such outlandish therapies usually just chain their loved ones up, sometimes at home, and sometimes to trees, abandoning them in the wild to die.

Fortunately, there is one man who’s trying to make a difference. His name is Abdirahman Ali Awale, and he goes by the alias “Dr. Hab.” Dr. Hab isn’t a real doctor, and he doesn’t have any impressive degrees. He’s received a grand total of three months of training from the World Health Organization, but despite his educational shortcomings, Dr. Hab has become the most respected mental health provider in the nation. Three times a day, the Somali people can hear his commercials playing on the radio, begging them to bring their friends and family to his hospital rather than throwing them into cages with deadly animals. So far, Dr. Hab has opened six centers across Somalia, and he helps people suffering from illnesses like depression and schizophrenia. And even though he’s constantly struggling to get medical supplies and must constantly deal with dangerous superstitions, Dr. Hab has managed to save over 15,000 lives. He might not have a Ph.D., but he’s a lot more effective, and has a way better bedside manner, than any hyena.

Show Me The Proof

Global Peace Index rankings
BBC News: Where hyenas are used to treat mental illness

  • Hillyard

    Lots of problems in Somalia. Mostly due to the habit of the Somali people of shooting themselves in the foot – metaphorically speaking. I’m not sure if the best cure would be massive intervention or just fence the damn place off and send in clean up teams after it’s all over. Sad, sad country.

    • Eyan Khan

      A very sad and degenerate way of thinking man..

      • Hillyard

        You’re right. It is just sad and annoying to think about what those people are doing to themselves, and that some of them are actively discouraging outside help by shooting at anyone that tries. Sad country and it says a lot about the limits of world’s powerhouses that no one seems to be able to come up with a solution.

        • Eyan Khan

          So your solution is to just finish them off?? where is the humanity in that? How would you feel if you were born in that nation,would you want the world to do the same to you,remember we have had advantages that Somalians haven’t everyone deserves their chance!!

          • Hillyard

            No I would not advocate eradicating anyone. I was just expressing my frustration with the situation. More education would indeed help. Who’s going to build the schools? The criminals that are running the country, or rather controlling a few square kilometers each, prevent the people from receiving the opportunity for an education. So do we sit back and wait for the people to rise up against 100 little tyrants as Hadeskabir suggested or send in a force to occupy the country and lock up/kill the warlords that are creating a hell for everyone there. Wish to hell I knew what to do, not that anyone would listen.

          • Eyan Khan

            Well then i guess i misinterpreted what you said…apologies on my part…
            Actually I think an intervention can actually work in Somalia for many reasons..but even by doing nothing things will but as it current situation goes it will take some time.

    • lbatfish

      I’m expecting a major turnaround there just as soon as John Galt arrives with his friends.

      • Hillyard

        Thanks, needed a laugh after this article.

    • Hadeskabir

      That’s absurd, that’s no way of dealing with a country with such huge social, economical and governmental problems as Somalia. They need a functioning government to deal with their problems, but we all know how Somalia feels about governments. Let us just hope that with time the Somalis will do the right thing and put a functioning democracy in place to solve most of all of their current problems.

      • Hillyard

        I know, but it is so depressing thinking about the self made mess that is Somalia. When people go there to try to help, they get shot at or kidnapped or killed. In Somaliland in the north of the country there is a functioning, democratically elected government. To extend that to the rest of the country would be the ideal. But how? Use force, we saw how well trying to shove democracy down the throats of the Iraqis worked. The people themselves would probably love to have a real government. The problem is the bad apples in the bunch have lots of guns and don’t want a working government as they would be out of business and/or in jail. It’s a sad country with lots of potential, but what should we do?

        • Hadeskabir

          We should do nothing. Every time a country is heading the wrong or been in the wrong way for a long time its population revolt, threw out history that happened in most countries. Let us just wait and you’ll see that the Somalis will revolt against the bad apples there and hopefully it will lead to functioning democracy. It worked in my country in 1974.

  • Efamore

    Amazing that this still happens in this day in age. And I’m surprised to see that “North Korea” isn’t the second most dangerous country…of course when they mention that Afghanistan is the worst, my heart sunk. My brother flies out to Afghanistan in 15 days for a 9 month stay. He flies apache helicopters so at least he’s not wandering around on the ground but still…

  • Scott

    It could work, for all we know. I haven’t seen western medicine do all that great with mental illness, so why not try hyenas?

    • kasoy1976

      Why not Zoidberg?

      • Scott

        Good question

  • Sweet-Sativa

    Next time I feel depressed I will jump into the yard next door. There are a few snarling mean chiuahaus and they may be able to clear out the depressing demons. Or maybe they will just tear my ankles to hell.

  • EggOnNeon

    I don’t believe this story.

    • jones

      Because in your PC worldview, describing ways in which certain black people are actually ignorant is a sin. It’s hard to accept facts when there’s so much cognitive dissonance that goes along with them.

      Along those lines, the dreaded I-word (Islam) is never mentioned as a potential underlying factor in the inherent misery of Somalia (or Afghanistan, the most dangerous country).

      • EggOnNeon

        Un huh. It’s not that Americans, the most lingual ones anyway, categorically the SICKEST folk on the planet by any standard ever devised, couldn’t possibly count, much less diagnose “mental illness”. And we’re always importing MORE c-r-a-z-y other planeteers under the guise of . . . . well who can figure it out? Do you watch True Crime shows? Maury? Jerry Springer? The prevalence of some of the most skin-crawling porn alone will be examined, I’m sure, by a future race. Do you read about organized crime? Watch trailers of vampire or horror movies? Read routine crime stories? Watch Criminal Minds? Read the NYT? Do you TALK to some of these immigrants, say, from the Ukraine? Nigeria? India? Pakistan? Viet Nam? Mannnnn.

        • Scott

          “BLAME AMERICA” is the battle cry of the Eurotrash.

  • EggOnNeon

    Maybe one of 20 sentences here has some element of truth.

  • Enzo

    Do people actually believe Afghanistan is more dangerous than Somalia?? That’s a joke

    • EggOnNeon

      It is all crazy bull. And you know it.

  • Richard Duport

    My Somali neighbors are such nice people, its werid that they come from such a fucked up place.