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Somaliland: Traditional elders embrace Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)

November 7, 2023

A life-changing journey is unfolding in the heart of Hariirad, a town that serves as a bridge between two clans in Somaliland. Abdi Hassan is a traditional elder who has come to recognise the importance of addressing mental health issues in his community. For years, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) were uncharted territory in this region. The prevailing understanding of mental health was often mis-understood and confined to traditional and cultural aspects, leaving the equally important clinical and psychosocial dimension in the shadows.

However, Interpeace’s Miisaan programme made up of a consortium of diverse partners, which aims to enhance locally informed transitional justice processes in Somalia and Somaliland, recognised the urgency of bridging the knowledge gap and embarked on a journey to transform the community’s perspective on mental health. The turning point came during a traditional elder training event in Hariirad district in July 2023, organised by the Miisaan programme. The training created awareness that many individuals who have endured the traumas of conflict require specialised support to engage in transitional justice mechanisms effectively.

Abdi Hassan and his fellow traditional elders, the custodians of local peacebuilding processes, took part in this event. Their honest reactions unveiled a significant challenge: the unrecognised struggles of community members dealing with mental health issues. For years, these challenges were masked, resulting in the exclusion of people with trauma and grievances from the peacebuilding processes as the elders failed to recognise the deeply rooted mental health concerns that lay beneath.

Amina Ahmed is a mother of two, living in Hariirad who silently battled mental health issues for years. Her journey had been marked by isolation and misunderstanding, as the stigma surrounding mental health issues kept her suffering in silence.

However, as Abdi Hassan and his fellow elders embarked on their path of enlightenment, they encountered Amina's story. Through open dialogue and deeper understanding, they recognised her silent struggles and the importance of addressing mental health and psychosocial well-being. Amina's challenges and her healing journey became a beacon of inspiration for the community.

The transformation in Hariirad is ongoing, a journey marked by newfound awareness, compassion, and the courage to confront the stigmas and challenges of mental health. Amina, once shrouded in isolation, is now treated differently. Her community, led by Abdi Hassan and his fellow traditional elders, has begun to embrace her with empathy and support, recognising the significance of mental health as an integral component of sustainable peacebuilding.

By integrating MHPSS into our Miisaan programme, Interpeace aims to create awareness beyond the physical needs of the affected communities, recognising that mental health is an integral part of overall well-being and neglecting it would hinder any efforts towards sustainable peace. Interpeace’s approach through the Miisaan programme seeks to empower individuals and communities by equipping them with the necessary information, tools and resources to cope with their psychological challenges.

In Hariirad, the journey is far from over. It is marked by freshly gained insight and commitment to embrace change. Abdi Hassan and his fellow traditional elders are leading the way, ensuring that stories like Amina's are no longer silenced but illuminated as beacons of hope, not only for communities across Somaliland but also for regions far beyond.