By Christina Nakhle
“Mental health is health.”
How often have you heard of or read this phrase? Have you ever paused for a few seconds to think about what it truly means and how it echoes the importance of understanding and normalizing mental health issues?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which individuals realize their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and are able to make a contribution to their community”.
Despite the ever-growing efforts in de-stigmatizing mental illness today, it is still very often viewed as shameful and disabling in our society. The stigma that surrounds mental illness can have harmful effects on patients such as self-blame, shame and discrimination. False beliefs and perceptions of mental illness can easily influence attitudes and behaviors towards patients with mental disorders.
Patients are therefore often viewed as dangerous, unstable or violent. This stigma can lead to reluctance in seeking professional treatment or help, fewer school/work opportunities, lack of understanding by family, friends and colleagues as well as bullying, harassment and even physical violence.
Contrary to popular belief, mental illness is a condition that can happen to anyone at any given point in life. Statistics show how common mental disorders are and the numbers alone should be enough to show that mental health is part of our health and that there is absolutely no shame in having a mental disorder.
Recent studies show that in Lebanon, 1 out of 4 Lebanese people will develop a mental disorder at some point in their lives, but only 1 out of 10 people will get treated (Embrace, NGO). Furthermore, according to IDRAAC (NGO), 1 out of 6 Lebanese people (16.7% of the Lebanese population) will develop an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. However, it can take Lebanese people up to 28 years before they seek any consultation for their anxiety disorders. This shows that we still have a long way to go in the ongoing fight against stigma and discrimination in Lebanon.
And in order to be able to effectively bring on real change, reforms have to be made on a national level. The immense work NGOs and university clubs are doing and the awareness campaigns they are continuously working on unfortunately cannot be enough if the government of the country itself is not doing enough. Awareness programs have to be more strictly implemented, starting at a young age in schools. Education is key to fighting ignorance from which stems the stigma we are trying to reduce.
In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study (WHO-AIMS report) on the Mental Health System in Lebanon. It has been found that only 5% of health care expenditures by the Lebanese government’s health department are directed towards mental health, in opposition to the 95% for all other health expenditures.
Lebanon may have made significant strides over the past decades, but it still has a long way to go when it comes to the de-stigmatization of mental illness, education on mental health and offering all citizens full, equal and affordable access to professional mental health care and resources.
It is important to note that the way our society views mental illness is heavily influenced by the way the government deals with it, and shifting the public perception of it can play a significant role in making it less of a taboo subject.
It is worth mentioning here the significant work done by the National Mental Health Program in Lebanon, as well as all the effort made by Embrace in educating and raising awareness and creating and maintaining the first ever national helpline, a suicide prevention and psychological support hotline (1564) with trained professionals.
Past studies have shown that every 6 hours, a person attempts suicide in Lebanon, and every 3 days, a person dies of suicide. These numbers will only keep on growing with the several crises the country is going through at the moment if we keep our arms crossed and do nothing.
It is every Lebanese citizen’s duty to keep the conversation on mental health going, and to try and contribute into de-stigmatizing mental illness and creating a safe and shame-free environment for everyone.
Last but not least, if you or anyone you know are experiencing emotional distress or suicidal thoughts, call the Embrace Lifeline at 1564. Remember that mental health is health and share the message to help keep the conversation going. There is no shame in speaking up, because talking truly saves lives.