‘You are not alone’ local mental health experts remind the Lebanese

The overwhelming conditions imposed by coronavirus confinement and physical distancing served as powerful stimulators of stress.
by Perla Kantarjian

10 July 2020 | 14:37

Source: by Annahar

  • by Perla Kantarjian
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 10 July 2020 | 14:37

A demonstrator holds a placard (R) which reads in arabic "he did not commit suicide, he was killed in cold blood." (AFP)

BEIRUT: “I have been shielding myself from all that’s been happening,” D.M., a Lebanese female in her 30s with bipolar disorder, told Annahar. “When I heard about the local suicides [last week] I decided not to open social media that day and focus on my work instead.”

The ongoing cataclysmic economic crisis that has left hundreds of thousands of Lebanese unemployed in less than a year has not only strangled the country’s finances, but also the mental health of its inhabitants who are spending their days in a struggle to dodge all sorts of bullets.

While COVID-19 shook the world into a global state of frenzy, the weight of the pandemic and its imprint on Lebanon was just the tip of the iceberg.

According to licensed clinical psychologist, EMDR trained therapist, & NLP & TLT practitioner Manoug Ibitian, Lebanese are currently being “bombarded with trauma after trauma.”

“We need not forget that we, the Lebanese, have accumulated unresolved past traumatic experiences due to the civil war and other local crises,” Ibitian told Annahar. “To visualize it, we look like someone who is receiving a punch on his face one after the other without having time to assimilate the past blows.”

The overwhelming conditions imposed by coronavirus confinement and physical distancing served as powerful stimulators of stress.

Nevertheless, as Lebanon gradually lifted its coronavirus lockdown in late May, the Lebanese stepped out of quarantine and returned to their pre-confinement lives hardly able to scrape a living- a chain reaction to the crash of the Lebanese lira against the dollar.

“As the confinement period ended, the local economic crisis began to appear even harsher than it was before, adding to the feelings of uncertainty about our present, and anxiety and fear about an unsafe near future,” said Nicolas Rizk, psychotherapist and licensed clinical psychologist.

All things considered, as normal as it is to be anxious, worried, and to overthink and feel overwhelmed right now, “it is just as normal to ‘feel nothing,’ and to be calm and detached,” Luma Naccache, licensed clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, told Annahar, adding that it is also normal to “oscillate between the latter two opposing states.”

Additionally, in light of the troublesome state of affairs, there has been a noticeable increase in acts of compassion and attempts to nurture mental health, on behalf of both nonprofits and benevolent individuals.

Chantale Fahed, for instance, is a psychology graduate who begun offering free consultation services to whoever is in need after hearing of last week’s suicide incident in Hamra which was said to have been linked to hunger.

“It breaks my heart that this is what's happening around us now,” Fahed told Annahar. “Even though some of us are privileged enough to have food on our tables, other passports, or enough money to leave the country, we should not leave our people behind.”

1564, which is the lifeline number of Embrace, a local nonprofit dedicated to mental health, is also being circulated between the Lebanese.

With the unsettled nature of the socioeconomic living situation, an alarming number of suicide cases with roots linked to the ongoing crises have been surfacing. Last week, 4 cases took place in a timespan of less than 48 hours.

Lea Zeinoun, executive director of Embrace, told Annahar that whenever there is an increased coverage of death by suicide, people start to disseminate their lifeline number which increases the awareness about the NGO, and so people begin to reach out more.

What’s more, she added, is that whenever the media “romanticizes” suicide and portrays the victim as “heroic,” just like what happened with the suicide of the 61-year-old man who recently shot himself in Hamra leaving a note behind, the “copycat effect” tends to take place, meaning people with mental health issues tend to be “triggered” to do the same after the media sensualizes the suicide with explicit details.

Therefore, Haya Saad, psychotherapist at Brainstation Clinics, finds sharing and reporting news of suicide a very “delicate” issue which can affect people who are struggling with or have suicidal thoughts.

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Maysaa Ajjan contributed to this article. 

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