A pilot study on community-based outpatient treatment for patients with chronic psychotic disorders in Somalia: Change in symptoms, functioning and co-morbid khat use

Authors: Michael Odenwald, Birke Lingenfelder, Wolfgang Peschel, Farhan Adam Haibe, Abdirisak Mohamed Warsame, Ahmed Omer, Judith Stöckel, Anna Maedl, Thomas Elbert

International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 2012


In Low and Middle Income Countries, mental health services are often poorly developed due to the lack of resources and trained personnel. In order to overcome these challenges, new ways of care have been suggested such as a focus on community-based services. In Somalia, the consumption of the natural stimulant khat is highly prevalent, aggravating mental illness. At the same time, mental health care is largely unavailable to the vast majority of the population. In a pilot project, we tested possibilities for effective measures in community-based out-patient mental health care.


Thirty-five patients with chronic psychotic disorders and their carers were involved in a 10-months follow-up study. All of them abused khat. Seventeen outpatients experiencing acute psychotic episodes were recruited from the community and received an intensive six week home-based treatment package. Additionally eighteen patients with chronic psychotic disorders in remission were recruited either following hospital discharge or from the community. In a second phase of the study, both groups received community-based relapse prevention that differed in the degree of the family’s responsibility for the treatment. The treatment package was comprised of psycho-education, low-dose neuroleptic treatment,monthly home visits and counseling. The Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) was applied three times. Additionally, we assessed functioning, khat use and other outcomes.


Of the 35 patients enrolled in the study, 33 participated in the 10-month follow-up.

Outpatients improved significantly in the first six weeks of treatment and did not differ from remitted patients at the start of the second treatment phase. In the preventive treatment phase, we find heterogeneous outcomes that diverge between symptom and functioning domains.

With the exception of depressive symptoms, symptoms in all patients tended to worsen. The outpatient group had higher BPRS positive and negative symptom scores compared to the remitted group. Levels of functioning in 20 out of 33 patients significantly improved, with small differences between groups. Most patients experienced improvements in basic functioning, such as communication, self-care etc. Khat use could only be reduced in the group of outpatients.


Community-based out-patient mental health treatment for chronic psychotic disorders has demonstrated positive effects in Somalia and is both feasible and practical, despite facing formidable challenges controlling khat intake.

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