Taking Back Control of Her Life: Hawa’s Story

Hawa lives in Melkadida, one of the camps in Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado refugee complex. She is 30-years-old and arrived in the camp in 2010, along with her husband and 7 children. Having witnessed her brother’s death, she fled Somalia due to the conflict.

Hawa has suffered from mental health problems for the last seven years. She used to sit in one place for a long time, talking and laughing alone, incapable of providing care and support for her children or herself. She developed an unshakable belief that someone was watching and following her, intent on doing her harm.

During this time, Hawa’s family became concerned and debated what to do to help. Some suggested medications from the clinic, while others advocated for traditional healing mechanisms. The latter option was endorsed by her family, and they took Hawa to the traditional medicine men. Despite her family’s interest and committed visits to every traditional healer in the camp, it was in vain. There was still no relief for Hawa.

Then International Medical Corps mental health refugee volunteers identified Hawa’s case and brought it to the attention of our Mental Health Officer. Our teams assessed Hawa using a bio-psychosocial assessment tool and diagnosed her condition as schizophrenia.

Hawa’s first session was attended by both herself and her husband. He was at a loss with what to do with her and worried about the affect her illness had on him and his children, conveying doubts about the treatment. But after a few sessions with our mental health teams, Hawa started to speak very slowly and began to initiate conversation. Although her words remained muddled, conveying little meaning, this positive development was the turning point in Hawa’s treatment, and helped her regain the acceptance of her family.

Hawa’s radical change due to the therapy provided by International Medical Corps’ mental health teams encouraged her husband to actively become involved at both Hawa’s clinic and in household interventions. With careful use of medication and psychological support, Hawa now feels that she has “been given her life back.”

Some people believe that those with schizophrenia are permanently incapable; that they cannot make rational decisions or take an active part in determining their own treatment, as Hawa’s husband once did. However, Hawa showed that she really is able to take full control of her life. Currently, she is able to care for herself and has rebuilt her social ties, which suffered during her illness.

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