Jamila’s mother, a healthcare worker herself, had heard rumors that abuse—including sexual abuse—has taken place at Razi. When Jamila, who is a journalist, tried to gather testimonies about abuse allegations from patients inside Razi Mental Hospital, she said people would initially agree to talk but later refused to pick up their phones or would respond that Razi staff had threatened to deny them treatment if they spoke to press about their experiences.
Asked about the rumors and allegations of abuse at Razi, the head of department Attia denied that there is any merit to them.
“I have worked for 35 years and honestly have never witnessed such abuse. To the contrary I have seen patients assault doctors… and that is a normal thing because they are patients,” Attia said.
Our job is particular. Our patients might experience a thing similar to delirium and sometimes they imagine that someone has evil intentions towards them or does not like them. This is a kind of illness,
Attia told Meshkal/Nawaat.
But for Jamila, Razi has not been a place she sees as able to help her sister.
“The hospital itself is not a place for a person to get better.It will make them more sick instead,” Jamila said.
Covid-19, Police Brutality Prompt More Mental Health Demand
Ben Smail of the non-profit Psychologists of the World told Meshkal/Nawaat that their organization was often contacted during the Covid-19 crisis by people who suffered from psychological distress caused by the crisis but did not find any professionals they could reach out to.
As part of its Covid-19 strategy, the Tunisian Ministry of Health has previously announced that it put in place a free hotline with 200 psychologists and psychiatric specialists available, for people who need psychological support during these times.
People are starting, little by little, to give importance to psychological support,
Ben Smail said.
Meanwhile, police brutality, extensively documented during recent protests by witnesses on social media, by human rights groups, and by journalists, has prompted some to seek out psychological help. One particularly new feature in recent police responses to demonstrations has been mass detention of minors as well as torture inside detention centers.
“The worst thing that has happened this year, it’s the detention of minors and torture,” said Alaa Talbi of the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights (FTDES by its French acronym). Meshkal/Nawaat reported in January that about 600 minors had been detained in mass arrests at that time, according to one estimate.
“It’s the first time that requests came to us, distress appeals for psychological assistance,” Talbi added, noting that previously people mostly came to FTDES asking only for legal help.
This article was produced as part of a reporting partnership between Meshkal and Nawaat