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Mental health fears fed by Somali 'Khat' culture

PUBLISHED: 19:18 07 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:06 05 October 2010

FEARS were raised this week over chewing the Khat plant which could be causing mental health problems in East London's Somali community. Primary Care trust bosses have begun research over the growing number of Somalis ending up in hospital with mental illness

By Gemma Collins

FEARS were raised this week over chewing the Khat plant which could be causing mental health problems in East London's Somali community.

Primary Care trust bosses have begun research at Tower Hamlets over the growing number of Somalis being admitted to hospital with mental illness caused by the weed.

The Somali Mental Health forum's chairman Abdi Hassan believes the popularity of Khat, a green leaf shrub which originates from the Somali homeland in the Horn of Africa and in the Arabian peninsular, could be behind the problem because it is popular among Somali men.

"People don't realise the real effects of it," he told the Advertiser.

"It's used in Somalia by people wanting to stay awake to study.

"But here in Britain it's a way of socialising.

"Originally it was only popular with those over 40, but now it's getting to young people, even though they haven't grown up on it."

Khat is legal in Britain and is believed to be available from traders in East London for only £4 a bunch.

It has similar effects to amphetamine and chewing it makes people feel more alert and talkative.

But using it excessively can eventually cause paranoia and psychotic reactions.

Mr Hassan added: "This research is crucial as it will bring to light the areas where the Somali people most need help, then priority can be given to meeting those needs."

A complete ban on Khat was being urged this week at the Town Hall.

Tower Hamlets councillor Ahmed Omer, who is calling for a total restriction, said: "It should have been banned long ago.

"Many members of the community get frustrated by the lack of integration, so they turn to Khat.

"But there definitely needs to be more education on its effects. Usually we end up with nothing being done."

The primary care trust is now working with the Somali Mental Health forum to look at post traumatic stress disorder and the use of Khat in the Somali community.

gemma.collins@archant.co.uk

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