American University of Beirut

How to cope during crisis


​​October 29​​, 2021​​​

To start, what would you say is the state of mental health systems in Lebanon right now? Is access to care readily available? Do people seek out care for mental health?

The state of mental health care in Lebanon has never been sufficient or up to the needs of the Lebanese people before the crisis. So, we are lagging in terms of accessibility, affordability, and services. With what's happened in the last two years, especially the previous year, we have seen an immense brain drain of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social workers. The need for services has basically quadrupled, but we have one-third of the services to offer. Now, are people accessing services? Absolutely. You see this from the number of NGOs and the support hotlines like Embrace.

Is there a stigma that plays a significant role in mental health and Lebanon?

The stigma still remains, but it's much less. In the last 10 years, there's been a lot of work done on advocacy and awareness around mental health issues. Unfortunately, insurance often doesn't cover the cost of psychiatric help or psychology or therapy. So, either people have to pay a high fee or go to low fee centers, which we have at AUB, where residents in psychiatry and psychology see patients under faculty supervision.

Money problems are a major stressor in people's lives. With Lebanon's economic collapse, do you have any advice for people who are suddenly dealing with living in a new and uncertain economic reality?

It's the reality that we are all facing, and we are still adapting to, because every day the prices increase. People are moving away from cities back into villages because the cities are expensive. I always ask people to focus on what they have because many things are still very precious. So, trying to see what we have and give it value makes a big difference in switching the way people think about the situation because we cannot live thinking of everything that's missing, of all the negatives, and of all the struggles we cannot survive. We need to find another way.

Financial stressors are a major cause of marital friction. What can couples do to help each other get through these difficult times without making it a point of contention?

What I can see is an increase in family separations. You have many men now leaving Lebanon to work abroad, to be able to send money to the family that stays behind. I also see men who have gone before, and now the family is following. This creates immense pressure and strain on families.

To cope, I suggest maintaining connections with positive people who they are comfortable and close with. Trying to get back to a routine and activities as much as possible can help energize us. This can be sports, exercise, or reading. Anything that allows you to reconnect to what makes you feel better.

COVID-19 threw traditional schooling out the window and still only some schools are back to "normal" in-person schooling. And with Lebanon dealing with other issues, non-pandemic-related, such as lack of fuel.  What can parents do to help kids through this uncharted territory?

I think schools, not only the parents, have a responsibility to children. Schools need to enhance and do the best that they can. Besides fuel, electricity is a big issue. There's no electricity, there's no Wi-Fi. So online schooling is tough. All these challenges that the parents have to face every day need support from the schools. Parents are paying megabucks for services and some level of comfort that they're not even getting. Children are resilient, much more than adults in some ways, but they need support from parents and their community. I advise parents to advocate for their schools to be more lenient and understanding towards children during these difficult times.

Uncertainty about the future seems a given in Lebanon for the near future.  What can people do to help deal with the stress and worry this brings?

I see it on the streets. Everybody is so much on edge. It's understandable because the accumulation of these stressors and, most of all, daily stressors to have the minimum. My advice is to take it one day at a time because thinking about what might happen in a month, in six months, in one year, is impossible. It is not under our control anymore, and I don't think political analysis can give us an answer because, as we've seen, things can happen and change within an hour. The whole country is in turmoil. So, we cannot know what's going to happen. Focusing one day at a time, focusing on what people can control in their lives can help them feel that they have some level of power over their lives, their families, and their day-to-day needs.

Of course, talking to a professional, if possible, to watch oneself. If somebody feels that they are slipping into too much anxiety or depression, they should seek help.

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