FEATURE-The crisis in Lebanon is pushing mental health services to …


* As Lebanon’s problems persist, mental health suffers

* Patients find it difficult to find drugs, to pay therapists

* Local initiatives are doing their best to fill in the gaps

By Maya Gebeily

BEIRUT, October 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Lebanese psychologist Bernard Sousse began offering therapy sessions online when patients said soaring fuel prices meant they could no longer drive to see him – but the power cuts started.

Five minutes after a recent virtual session, the backup generator in the Sousse building spat, plunging him into darkness and cutting his patient off in the middle of the flow.

Lebanon’s economic collapse, COVID-19 and a huge explosion in Beirut last year have taken a heavy toll on the mental health of the population – increasing the pressure on support services which are struggling to function normally in because of the many misfortunes of the country.

“We have to wait for the electricity to come back, and in the meantime catch up with a few WhatsApp messages to complete the idea,” Sousse said.

“It’s extremely disruptive and makes sessions less effective at a time of urgent need.”

Many Lebanese are struggling with depression and burnout, but for many people, therapy is out of reach as their incomes decline, Sousse told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Lebanese pound has lost over 90% of its value against the US dollar and inflation has pushed prices up across the board, with a therapy session now being three times more expensive in local currency.

In addition to acute fuel shortages and regular power cuts, most psychiatric medications – from antidepressants to treatments for bipolar disorder – have not been available in pharmacies since March.


Mental health care providers have adapted as best they can, turning to technology or renewable energy sources.

When diesel shortages forced Lebanon’s only suicide helpline to limit its hours, operators secured funds for solar panels to ensure sudden blackouts did not interrupt distressed callers, said Rabih Chammai, head of the National Mental Health Program, a state-sponsored organization.

“We are also rolling out an app called Step by Step – it’s a guided self-help program to help people with depression – which comes at the right time with the coronavirus, lack of fuel and the economic crisis,” said said Chammai.

Instagram pages, including @medonations and @medsforlebanon, coordinate efforts to bring unavailable drugs to Lebanon and regularly submit requests for antidepressants and drugs used to treat anxiety.

New initiatives offering free or inexpensive online therapy sessions have emerged as more established NGOs struggle to meet increased demand.

Be Brave Beirut, a grassroots organization formed after the August 2020 explosion, offers free therapy with certified psychologists, as well as more informal sessions with a growing network of emotional support volunteers across the world.

They can be reached on LinkedIn or Instagram, sessions take place on WhatsApp – sometimes even by text message – and trainers organize online webinars to coach volunteers in psychological first aid and other methods.

Co-founder Bana Itani said the informal structure meant volunteers and beneficiaries could adjust to power cuts – “but if there was an internet outage, yes of course we would have serious problems” , she said.

Parts of Lebanon have had to deal with intermittent internet outages because transmission towers are running out of fuel to operate, the country’s state internet provider Ogero said.


Another community initiative, Lebanon For You, said it was inundated with requests for free therapy sessions.

“Previously, people only contacted us via direct messages. Now a lot of people contact me via WhatsApp, even at 11 p.m., for therapy sessions. They call, they use LinkedIn, Facebook – we hadn’t seen that kind of thing. awareness campaign before, ”said co-founder Ghida Allam.

But as the needs multiply, the capacities decrease: at least 13 of the 40 psychologists in their network have emigrated and others have taken time to cope with their own burnout.

Chammai said such initiatives would only be a stopgap as long as the underlying causes of the mental health crisis in Lebanon persist.

“If you have a broken sidewalk and people break their legs all the time walking on it, you wonder if you should heal people or fix the sidewalk? No, you do both,” he said. declared.

For the exhausted mental health caregivers nationwide, however, the focus is on day-to-day survival, said Pia Zeinoun, vice president of Embrace, which runs the suicide helpline and referral center. Mental Health.

“We have worked for years to break down the barriers to treatment: the stigma barrier by raising awareness – the money barrier by offering free services, the distance barrier by going online,” Zeinoun said.

“But the nation’s barriers keep piling up – on the people and on us.” (Reporting by Maya Gebeily @gebeilym; edited by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http: // news .trust.org)

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