Suicides multiply in Lebanon in crisis

The only national suicide prevention hotline, Embrace, is overwhelmed by appeals from the distraught Lebanese population.

The multifaceted crisis in Lebanon continues to wreak havoc on the population. Years of political, economic and social frustration have left the Lebanese people in despair, with increasing numbers viewing suicide as a last resort.

Embrace, an NGO with a mission to provide and improve mental health practices in Lebanon, operates the only suicide prevention hotline in the country with dozens of calls every day.

The Lebanese people have witnessed years of corruption and mismanagement as well as an irremediable economy. The trauma of the Beirut explosion in 2020 coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the suffering of the population.

Since the previous administration resigned following last year’s explosions in the port of Beirut, the country has been without a government for a year until the new government comes into play this month.

The currency is losing value every day, with soaring inflation making it impossible for the majority of the country to lead a healthy life. According to the UN, 74 percent of the Lebanese population is affected by poverty, while 82 percent are reeling from “multidimensional poverty” which encompasses access to education, health care and services. public in addition to money matters.

The queue in front of a gas station. Beirut, Lebanon. (Hussam Shbaro / AA)

People have struggled with micro-factors like fuel lines and blackouts. Hospitals are struggling to keep their doors open as medical staff, including mental health specialists, leave facilities, and access to medication has become a luxury. Those who can find a way out of the country are not looking back.

These factors have caused emotional stress in people, which facilitates the onset of psychological problems.

The Embrace hotline received approximately 1,100 calls each month, more than double the number of calls last year. Calls are expected to increase as more and more people fall into despair.

They received calls from a father of four who was considering suicide because he could not afford to feed his children, and from a widowed mother of three in the same condition. The callers included a homeless man whose condition led him to despair and suicidal thoughts.

Mia Atoui, co-founder and vice-president of the NGO, told AFP “We receive similar calls every day … the crisis has worsened enormously”.

Boushra, a volunteer operator at Embrace, called their efforts to AFP “mission impossible”, saying they are “supposed to give hope in a country where there is no hope”.

The number of callers under the age of 18 has also increased. In July, they took 15 percent of callers, compared to previous months when the numbers were below 10 percent.

The hotline was available for 17 hours, but working hours were extended to 9 p.m. due to high demand. The NGO aims for the hotline to be available for 24 hours.

Embrace operators answer calls.  Beirut, Lebanon.

Embrace operators answer calls. Beirut, Lebanon. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

As the hotline struggles to help callers, the country faces a shortage of mental health specialists and drugs to treat mental disorders. The demand for psychological help has also increased, although more and more people are unable to afford it.

Embrace, in accordance with its mission, operates a free therapy clinic. However, the clinic is booked until October with a waiting list of over 100 people.

Fadi Maalouf, head of the psychiatry department at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, reported an increase in the number of people seeking treatment. “We are certainly seeing more anxiety and depression, but also more advanced conditions,” he told AFP.

According to Maalouf, patients receiving medical treatment who were once stabbed have neglected their treatment due to the shortage of drugs. Their conditions have since deteriorated.

Lebanon is going through what has been defined as the most severe economic crisis since the 1850s. It is widely believed that soaring suicide rates are linked to the economic slowdown and unrest in the country.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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