الثلاثاء - 21 أيلول 2021
بيروت 27 °

إعلان

On The Occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day, 4 years’ worth of lessons on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in Lebanon

From the gathering organized by Embrace
From the gathering organized by Embrace
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Mia Atoui
 
When Embrace launched the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for Lebanon in collaboration with the National Mental Health Program 4 years ago, we were never sure how far or how well it would be received in a country like Lebanon who had only recently started to talk about mental health, and whose Health Ministry had only recently launched a program dedicated to mental health.

We however knew a few things.

We knew that Suicide was an unseen and overlooked public health problem that has never been addressed in our country.

We knew that, on average, we were losing a life to suicide every 2 days. After being hit with a global pandemic in 2020, we know, more than ever, what it means to apprehensively track daily death rates. But we knew this even before, and we knew that every life matters, and every life needs to be protected.

We knew that behind every 1 out 4 closed doors, there was a suffering soul, and there were loved ones who were worried and sharing their pain.

We knew that suffering which takes on a silent form, a hidden form, the suffering that is not visible to the naked eye, can be more painful than those we can physically see and treat.

We also knew that nothing was being done about any of the above.

Four years later, here are a few more learnings that are worth reflecting on.

We learned that Suicide Prevention efforts work, when combined with appropriate and sustainable planning, good governance, evidence-based tools, collaborative and inclusive efforts, strong leadership, and dedicated citizens in a society. We also know that when we put in place public systems that work for the public good and provide services equally to all society members, without discrimination, many lives can be saved, and many individuals can live better.

We also learned that raising awareness works, and that no amount of awareness is too much because people are always striving for more knowledge, they are always looking for ways to improve their own well-being, and to care for and improve the well-being of those around them. Awareness efforts have not been an integral part of our culture for a long time, not because we are not able to raise it, but because with awareness come growth and freedom. It is the culture of freedom that is also lacking. Freedom to make choices that are different, that are bold, and that go against the norms and against practices that were imposed on us to keep our thinking and our behavior confined to what is known rather than unknown, what is traditional rather than progressive, and what is safe rather than challenging.

We learned that Talking Saves Lives, and that human connection also saves lives. We have witnessed this firsthand, happening day in and day out within the walls of our call center, and over 1000 times a month. We have witnessed how a compassionate, non-judgmental ear lent to someone in need, during a dark time, can brighten up a day, can give hope, and can even rebuild souls from under the rubble. To keep this magic going on, we however need to fight systems that thrive on fostering conflict, prejudices, group differences, sectarianism and discrimination.

We also learned that in order to tackle mental health and suicide, we need to tackle the deep issues that plague our society. We now know more than ever, that the personal is political. We know that health, both physical and mental, is political, education is political, livelihood is political, and security is political. We also know that in order to prevent suicide, we not only need to raise awareness, put in place systems that detect and treat mental illness earlier, educate the media, ensure that mental health care is part of universal health care, implement a suicide hotline or integrate mental health in the educational system from an early age. We need to do much more. We need to strengthen economic supports that provide citizens with basic financial security, and think of innovative economic models that can ensure job market security while competing with today’s technological innovation and its impact on the workforce. We need to safeguard policies that protect women and children from violence and abuse, in all settings. We need to transform organizational policies to protect workers in the workplace from threats of bullying and discrimination and to make the workplace a more fulfilling experience. We need to implement programs that support parents in child-rearing in the first few years of their children’s development, which will constitute the main stages of their social and emotional development. And we need to make sure to fight the systems that threaten our connectedness and promote our fear of the other.

Finally, we learned that our youth, the main engine of our society, the builders of our economy, and our safety net for the next 20 years, are the most affected - and the damage being done to their mental health and their stamina is a conscious and deliberate one. We know that 60% of distressed callers to the National Lifeline are young adults, less than 35 years of age. We know that 63% of persons seeking mental health services in our clinics for diagnosed mental illnesses are between the ages of 18 and 35. We know that they have been a calculated target of the political system that has ambushed their dreams and destabilized their sense of security and muddled their sense of identity, all with the aim of ensuring that they do not build a different, more united and more progressive vision of Lebanon.

Despite these damages, what we learned, and what we continue to learn still does not come close to the learnings we gained about the uniqueness of the youth living in Lebanon who operate its National Suicide Hotline. We learned that that these people are our country’s biggest asset. We know that these youth are the future. They complete the vision of what the Lebanon of tomorrow looks like. They are strong combatants. They place themselves in the service of others without return, but they also know that they need to lead themselves first, in order to take care of others, and hence they prioritize their mental health too. They exemplify tolerance and empathy, and drive and passion. They do not give up when the times are hard, but keep pushing through. They fight for justice and freedom. They ensure

every citizen’s rights are met without prejudice or discrimination. They are the true citizens of this nation.

When we first launched the hotline, our mission was to bring back hope, when hope is lost. Our youth are our biggest hope, without them here we are nothing and today we are losing them. Our biggest fight, the one that we should all be focused on, is to drive the change needed to prevent the departure of the remaining youth who are still holding on here, and to bring back the ones who have unwillingly left and those who dream of returning. Any battle that does not focus on driving this change to re-instill them with hope to better rebuild their version of tomorrow, is a futile battle.

In the interim, and because of all the learnings of these 4 years, Lebanon’s National Lifeline (1564) will always be there for those who need it, to provide a listening ear, and a little bit of hope in the darkness.
 
 
 
 
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