This aesthetically pleasing twin-digit year has been nothing less than stressful for everyone. Lebanon, however, has been deep in anxiety a couple of months prior.
Protests against the government erupted in October 2019 and soon after the Lebanese lira went on a journey of continuous depreciation; a journey that is yet to reach its peak. Come 2020, the novel coronavirus pandemic that has hit each and every country took its toll on Lebanon's economy as well as its people.
With eventful months like these, keeping one's mental health intact became an arduous task.
"In December 2019 and January 2020, callers have been distressed by economic risk factors such as financial instability or uncertainty, unemployment and the high cost of living. In February 2020 until today, additional stressors have included the break out of the pandemic, the mobility restrictions and how these factors link to an individual's livelihood," Ayman Rahmeh, Communications Officer at Embrace, a non-profit organization that works on raising awareness around mental health in Lebanon, told us.
Lebanon's Internal Security Forces revealed that 171 suicide cases were recorded in 2019, with the highest number being scored among people aged 18 to 29 years. This would be the highest recorded number in the past decade, with registered suicides averaging 141 annually for the past four years.
In the Arab region, people who face mental health issues remain stigmatized, to a certain extent, and are rarely given a helping hand by their families. Social stigmas and the fact that treatment for mental disorders is expensive for the majority of people living in the region are also adding to the problem.
Organizations like Embrace are attempting to shift the power balance so it's on the patients' ground instead of solely on the not-too-kind society's around them. The NGO has over 80 volunteers trained on active listening and collaborative intervention in suicide crises, which equips them with the skills needed to receive calls at the Embrace Lifeline (1564). For now, people experiencing suicidal thoughts or emotional destress can call the Embrace Lifeline between 12 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. By the end of 2020, the NGO is aiming to prolong calling hours so that the lifeline becomes 24/7.
"The Lifeline has definitely seen an increase in the number of calls, however this began as of December 2019 after the media focused exclusively on suicide framing it linked [sic] to the economic and political instability. Before December, the Embrace Lifeline had been receiving an average of 200 data registered calls per month - data registered calls refers to calls whose information is captured and can be analyzed. During December, some days witnessed over 300 calls per day. That being said, the current average of calls stands at 500 data registered calls [a month], and over 1,000 calls received to the Embrace Lifeline," Mr. Rahmeh explained.
According to the NGO's monthly report, March 2020 witnessed 494 calls, 38 percent of which from people aged 20 to 29 years and 13 percent from people aged 10 to 19 years. Numbers in general are increasing when compared to reports from January and February of this year.
As the majority of calls and suicide cases are recorded among the country's youth, it is imperative for Embrace to reach out to this fragment through social media. In return, tech giant Facebook took notice of the NGO's efforts and lended them a hand to spread awareness faster and to more individuals.
"A lot of people take comfort in expressing themselves online, and very often these expressions are left unnoticed. With the technology Facebook uses, these people can quickly be detected. In this way, Facebook has helped send a semi-direct message to each person in distress online telling them about the Embrace Lifeline and supporting them with information," Mr. Rahmeh told us.
In September 2019, Embrace's hotline's information became available on Facebook's Safety Center through its resources tab. The resource seeks to provide advice and support to anyone who may be suffering from suicidal thoughts or seeking ways to cope with an emotional crisis. Individuals may also refer to the resource for guidance on how to support their loved ones. Embrace has also been added to Facebook's reporting flow, which means users who report "concern" over a post will be given the option to reach out to a friend for guidance, see tips, or seek advice by reaching out directly to the Embrace Lifeline by phone.
Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety at Facebook, reiterated the platform's commitment to safety among users.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people around the world to adjust to new routines, cope with loneliness, job loss, grief and more. It's tough for all of us in different ways, not just physically but mentally," Mrs. Davis said.
"As we observe Mental Health Awareness Week this week, we'd like to reiterate that you are not alone - if you are in distress, we at Facebook are able to connect you with support. Whether it is sharing tips from experts to promote well-being on our Covid Information Centre, supporting the work of mental health organizations, or giving you tools to manage your time on Facebook such as with Quiet Mode, Facebook can help," she continued.
With 63 new cases of people infected with COVID-19 recorded today in Lebanon, it seems the country is going head first into a second wave of infections. This could lead to an increase in anxiety levels among people as Lebanon had been doing extremely well throughout the first phase, with citizens anticipating the reopening of the country before summer time.
Dr. Brigitte Khoury, associate professor and clinical psychologist at the Psychiatry Department at the Faculty of Medicine, American University of Beirut, advised individuals to seek support from their entourage, especially those who "make you feel positive." She also suggested one should take daily and weekly breaks, while emphasizing on the "no work on weekend" rule. Finding balance between work and home - especially if working from home - limiting exposure to social media and media, as well as maintaining social distancing without self isolating oneself are also helpful practices.
"Self care is key (structure of day, sleep, nutrition…), pick up activities you like and that relax you, stay in touch with your psychotherapist and psychiatrist. Always have hope, you have been through worse and you made it, this will pass too," Dr. Khoury told StepFeed.
"If you cannot afford services there are free or low fee services in community centers, call any hospital with a psychiatry department and they can help you with a referral," the Director of the Clinical Psychology Training Program and Arab Regional Center for research and training in mental health continued.
Embrace, among other organizations focusing on mental health in Lebanon, is continuously spreading awareness and offering advice to people who are facing situational stress.
"We believe that mental health issues, specifically depression, are treatable, and suicide is preventable," said Mia Atoui, Clinical psychologist, Embrace Lifeline clinical supervisor, and Co-founder of Embrace Lebanon.
Reach out to Embrace through their lifeline (1564) if you're experiencing anxiety, stress, emotional distress, or suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is.