Calls to Lebanon’s suicide hotline grow due to impact of financial crisis

Lebanese health experts alarmed by population’s quickly deteriorating mental health

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National Lifeline in Lebanon for Emotional Support and Suicide Prevention has noted an alarming increase in the phone calls it receives daily.

While in 2019, the hotline received an average of five calls per day, this number has grown to 25 calls each day in 2021. In addition to responding to more daily calls, the volunteers working on the lifeline also need to handle more health-intensive calls.

“We have never seen so many imminent calls [a person calling and sharing alarming signs of a suicide attempt or who has already started the process of ending their life]. It is unheard of because people cannot cope correctly and don’t have access to basic human needs. They suffer from a lot of sadness and anger,” said Ramanos, a clinical psychologist and lifeline supervisor from The non-governmental organization (NGO) Embrace, which provides mental health services in the country.

“In the long run, the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness is too strong, and people see death as the only relieving solution. This country has lost its dreams and hopes, which is very dangerous,” she added.

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It is not surprising that the Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy, and Applied Care (IDRAAC), a psychological research center in Lebanon, has reported a disturbing number of suicides, with one in 20 people contemplating taking their own lives and one in 50 people attempting it.

According to Ramanos it is the repetition of crises, not only in the last two years but also in Lebanon’s contemporary history that has caused a consistent deterioration in the mental health of the Lebanese.

“Every time, people have to stand up without proper grieving and justice. Many are sick of being resilient and have no strength to stand up again,” she told Al Arabiya English. “After every crisis or war in the country in the last decades, the rebuilding has been very quick, and people have not had time to realize what they have been through,” she said.

“We are in a situation of permanent insecurity without any breaks, and we do not know when something will happen again,” she added.

Last donation of drugs stored at American University of Beirut Medical Center, Lebanon. (Photo: Clément Gibon)
Last donation of drugs stored at American University of Beirut Medical Center, Lebanon. (Photo: Clément Gibon)

Poverty playing a role

The magnitude of the current crisis also makes the situation particularly complicated. According to the World Bank, Lebanon’s economic and financial standing could rank as one of the most severe crises globally since the mid-nineteenth century.

At the same time, the population affected by multidimensional poverty has almost doubled from 42 percent in 2019 to 82 percent of the total population in 2021.

Without renewing their passports, the Lebanese find themselves trapped in their own country with no prospects for the future. Mohammad Ghadieh, an 18-year-old economics student at the Lebanese American University, describes a particularly complicated daily life.

“We are all suffering from some kind of mental illness, stress, or even depression because we are very concerned about our financial situation, our education, and all aspects of life in the country. It is becoming more and more difficult to consider a future in Lebanon, but we don’t really have a choice,” Ghadieh said.

In addition to being a significant stress factor, the crisis in Lebanon has also had a considerable impact on the health sector. The shortages of medicines prevent people who develop mental illnesses from treating themselves, while it worsens those who have already been diagnosed with one.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 40 percent of the country’s doctors and 30 percent of nurses have left Lebanon.

Fadi Maalouf, head of the psychiatry department at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, reported a sense of hopelessness among patients and health professionals.

“Many of my colleagues have moved abroad and are no longer available in healthcare practices. Patients are left without therapy and treatments,” Maalouf said.

Post-it board at Embrace Community Mental Health Center on which patients and caregivers can leave words of encouragement. (Photo: Clement Gibon)
Post-it board at Embrace Community Mental Health Center on which patients and caregivers can leave words of encouragement. (Photo: Clement Gibon)

Moreover, the mental health professionals that have stayed in Lebanon have had to deal with many more patients than they can handle.

“Sometimes we are helpless because we feel we can’t help everyone,” he added.

As a result of the crisis and the lack of proper healthcare, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and chronic stress have developed nationally.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

At the same time, the Beirut Port explosion left many people with signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder without proper care. In contrast, others cannot grieve properly because of the culture of impunity at play in the country.

“We did not have time to grieve properly because there is no justice, and each time the reconstruction is very fast without even processing what we have experienced,” Ramanos explained.

“People went through many separations with the blast, or relatives traveling. For us, it is very difficult because we are a supportive community with friends and family around. That is why many people do not feel at home in their own country anymore,” Ramanos said.

Despite a determined team of 130 volunteers at Embrace and a significant adaptation of the medical sector to the crisis in Lebanon, they are particularly concerned about the future of the country and a further deterioration of the population’s mental health.

Last summer, the Embrace center had to close its office several times because of fuel shortages, and they fear repeating this scenario. For his part, Fadi Maalouf foresees an increasingly unbearable situation for the population if the economic crisis is not solved.

“Unfortunately, if the crisis continues, we are going to see more difficult days. I am not very optimistic about the future because the longer the stress, the more the crisis affects people and the less they can cope. We can expect a tipping point where people will no longer be able to cope.”

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