Four years ago, a suicide prevention helpline didn't exist in Lebanon despite the fact that the country loses someone nearly every three days to suicide.
Non-profit mental health organization Embrace Lebanon has turned that reality upside down. In 2015, the NGO launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to make that happen. It then officially launched the Embrace Lifeline (1564) in 2017 and has since helped over 1,700 individuals suffering from mental health problems or suicidal thoughts since February 2018.
Now, the organization has taken its preventive measures a step further. In partnership with Facebook to support its ongoing campaign "Talking Saves Lives," Embrace has marked the availability of Lebanon's first suicide prevention helpline. Facebook users in the country now have access to the hotline's information through the resources tab on the platform's Safety Center.
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.
The resource is available in both English and Arabic and is available not only in Lebanon, but also in the wider Middle East.
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.
"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.
Facebook's director of public policy in MENA, Nashwa Aly, also reiterated the platform's commitment to safety among users.
"In line with our commitment to make Facebook a safer place for our users, we are pleased to announce our partnership with Embrace on World Suicide Prevention Day. An important part of Facebook's mission, and an important part of how we'll measure our progress moving forward is ensuring we are building a community that helps keep people safe," Aly said.
"So that no one suffers in silence"
Data released by Lebanon's Internal Security Forces earlier this year revealed the alarming spike in suicides in 2019. In just the first half of 2019, Lebanon witnessed the same number of suicides expected for the whole year. A total of 110 suicides were recorded as of July 2019; registered suicides have averaged 141 annually for the past four years.
Despite the significant strides achieved, patients in Lebanon continue to face stigma. In August, Embrace revealed that more than a third of the calls to Lebanon's hotline come from Beirut. The organization believes people experiencing mental health issues outside of the capital city are less likely to seek help.
As of August 2019, calls from Beirut make up 36 percent of the hotline's total traffic, and 10 percent from each of the following areas: North Lebanon, South Lebanon, and Chouf and Aley. Mount Lebanon makes up 8 percent of the total traffic while Kesrouan-Jbeil makes up 7 percent. The lowest percentage (3 percent) of callers to the helpline come from the Bekaa Valley.
Currently, the hotline operates seven days a week, from noon until 2 a.m. By 2020, Embrace aims to provide a 24-hour service.
Now that Embrace has made its way onto Facebook, hopefully, its impact on individuals' lives will grow even further.