Success in Improving Mental Health in Lebanon

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SEATTLE — Over the past few years, mental health in Lebanon has been considered a public health problem, as the latest statistics show that around 4.6 percent of the Lebanese population has experienced at least one type of mental disorder, including depression and anxiety.

The issue of mental health has grabbed the attention of international organizations and health institutions on an international scale as the number of psychological, social and emotional disorders increased significantly. In 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that nearly 20 percent of the world’s youth have experienced a type of mental health condition that rendered them more susceptible to isolation. He also stressed the importance of increasing access to mental health services in developing countries to prevent any additional shame, stigma or violence associated with having a mental illness.

The Global Burden of Disease Study, released in 2010, stated that mental and substance abuse disorders constitute 7.4 percent of the total disease burden. The epidemiological transition characterized by a shift from communicable to non-communicable diseases was responsible for the increasing number of patients admitted for treatment of a mental illness. As a result of the outrageous rise witnessed in mental health illnesses in the past decade, substance use, drug addiction and mental health disorders now represent four out of the 10 top causes of disability in the world. Moreover, what the world seems to neglect is that the burden attributed to mental illnesses is actually intensifying due to increased diagnoses and limited access to preventive and medical services in developing countries.

In terms of mental health in Lebanon, anxiety disorders (16.7 percent), mood disorders (12.6 percent) and suicide (4.3 percent) had the highest prevalence rates in the nation. However, what was concerning is that only a few of the individuals who suffered from a type of mental illness had actually received professional treatment. It was seen that some individuals sought health experts six to 28 years after the onset of the disease, as they had neglected their mental health status until they experienced debilitating symptoms or a life-threatening condition. Therefore, the delay in seeking treatment, reliance on religious healers and spiritual advisers and the elevated cases of mental health disorders among the youth have exacerbated the burden of such types of illnesses on Lebanese society at large.

Lebanon has also been a war-related zone for several years, starting with the civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990, followed by the Israeli war in 2006 and the impact of the 2011 Syrian war on the prosperity of the country. The instability of the country for several decades has exposed approximately 70 percent of its citizens to one or more conflict-related events. Therefore, the cumulative effect of war exposure has certainly contributed to the high rates of mental illness in the country.

In response to a worldwide initiative to prevent and control mental health illnesses, the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the International Medical Corps, launched the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) in May 2014 with the goal of reforming and improving mental health care in Lebanon. The program aimed to provide Lebanese citizens increased access to services beyond medical treatment, including psychotherapy and social support to ensure a multidisciplinary approach to addressing the illness at hand.

To ensure the improvement of mental health in Lebanon on a broad scale, international organizations, the public sector (ministries and municipalities) and the private sector (hospitals) will collaborate on the delivery of the needed health services. One of the main successes reported was the integration of Social Development Centres into the primary healthcare centers to increase equality in accessibility and affordability of mental health services among the poor.

The National Mental Health Programme has advocated for the need to realize the seriousness of the issue of mental health in Lebanon and its impact on the well-being of Lebanese society. The mental health campaigns launched annually to promote the NMHP’s strategies have succeeded in raising awareness about such types of disorders, particularly depression, which was the topic of interest in last year’s campaign (“Depression: Let’s Talk About It to Get Out of It”). Such a promising initiative can hopefully entice other developing countries to start their own mental health-oriented programs.

– Lea Sacca

Photo: Flickr

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