Moving to a new country is a challenge in itself, but moving to a new country because your country is at war is something else.

With millions of Syrians being forced to flee their homes due to the ongoing Syrian crisis, many have been left in an unstable psychological state.

Organizations in Lebanon are doing what they can to provide aid and support to the millions of Syrians coming in to the country, however, most organizations are missing one of the most important elements of all: counseling and mental health programs.

Unfortunately, the fact that the local community has long stigmatized those who turn to mental health services does not help the situation. Mental health services in Lebanon are mostly private, pushing refugees to rely heavily on NGOs for mental health care.

Most aid organizations in the country lack the expertise and resources to provide one-on-one counseling sessions, which is why organizations like Amel Association, War Child  and Basmeh and Zeitooneh  provide psycho-social support for those struggling or rely on referrals to international organizations.

More than 89 percent of young refugees are in despair from their reality, preoccupied with anxiety and fear all the time, according to a study released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2014. Moreover, 17 percent of young refugees have thought "often" about suicide while 24 percent have thought about it "sometimes."

Another survey conducted fall of 2014 by Save the Children found that 41 percent of Syrians in Lebanon between the ages of 15 and 24 have contemplated suicide.

There are a few organizations that focus on mental health programs specifically catered to refugees suffering from depression, trauma, anxiety or suicidal thoughts.

Having started operations in 2006 in Lebanon, the global humanitarian organization assists the more than 1 million Syrian refugees in the country with health care, health education, mental health and psycho-social services to both refugees and the Lebanese.

Photo source: Facebook
Source: Facebook

MSF was among the first NGOs to explore and launch mental health projects in Lebanon.

In 2008, MSF started a mental health program that lasted for 4 years for vulnerable Palestinian refugees living in and around Burj el-Barajneh camp in southern Beirut. The program was based on a community approach that brings together psychiatric and psychological care with social and community support.

In April 2011, MSF launched the same community-based mental health program in Saida, primarily targeting Ain el-Helweh camp’s Palestinian population and other vulnerable communities both inside and outside the camp. Since the beginning of 2013, patients from Syria have came to represent 43 percent of MSF’s new patients in the area. The project was handed over in 2015 to UNRWA.

Since November 2011, MSF has been continuously expanding its humanitarian and medical response to provide urgent assistance to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The organization is presently offering medical services in Tripoli and in various locations in the Bekaa Valley.  The programs provide free of charge health care, including medications for acute and chronic conditions, vaccinations and antenatal care to all those in need irrespective of nationality and registration status. This includes Syrian refugees, Lebanese returnees, internally displaced Lebanese, and Palestinian refugees displaced from Syrian and Lebanese hosting communities.

In all of its work, MSF aims to provide appropriate mental health services as a part of a holistic approach:

In line with our belief that approaches focusing on the separate psychological, physical, or social dimension of the patients’ experiences have limited value, we made sure to have Mental Health activities in all our clinics.

Hence, it was indispensable to implement a minimal mental health package of Psychosocial support that focuses on clinical activities as well as some communitarian activities within our medical services.  Proceeding from this principle, MSF is presently offering Mental Health counselling in our current 3 projects in Lebanon. We believe that a separation between medical and mental health services assumes, incorrectly, a separation of body and mind, or the human from the environment. This separation does not hold for Western medical-philosophical reasons nor is it in tune with non-Western worldviews. Consequently medical interventions always need to have psychological and social components, even in emergencies. This approach is reflected in the integration of psychosocial or mental health components in basic healthcare programmes through joint logical frameworks, an attitude of comprehensive medical thinking (patient- instead of disease-oriented) and an integrated management style.

The ADN Center in Tripoli is a free psychology clinic providing integrated services, psychological help (psychiatric treatment, psychological counseling, psychological support), with a 24/7 hotline in cases of psychiatric emergency.

Established in 1996, this NGO actively works in the rehabilitation of victims of torture and violence and is headquartered in Tripoli, Lebanon.

From January till June 2015, Restart Center worked on a “Mental Health Services and Psychosocial Support to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon” whereby the organization provided specialized mental health services to 537 registered Syrian refugees in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, 83 percent of its 2015 target.