Trauma and anxiety: Beirut’s mental health crisis


Flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety — are the signs of trauma haunting the residents of Beirut.

“You couldn’t really see anything but people rushing, screams, sound sweeps, glass shatters, you can’t even walk because some things are still falling from the buildings.”

Two weeks after the deadly explosion — practitioners are warning of a national mental health emergency.

The blast decimated the city and killed 181 people, but for volunteers like Josephine there was no time to heal.

“Very, very quickly. You have no idea. We cleaned in one day. People came into volunteer. What I do is I give the station now I’m responsible of the kitchen and I deliver hot meals at lunchtime.”

Stigma towards mental health is still rife in Lebanon – a country hardened by past wars and sectarian conflict.

But this blast caught Lebanon at an extremely vulnerable point after months of severe economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Psychologists say it was a tipping point,

now being exacerbated by the constant stream of images on Lebanese TV and social media.

“I kept watching the explosion on the video from different angles. Just thinking is it the nightmare? Did it really happen? What are we going to do?”

Many mental health professionals have mobilized in the wake of the blast to offer their services and post tips on social media.

For older Lebanese residents, the blast triggered memories of the 1975-1990 civil war and the 2006 war with Israel.

Ola Khodor, a 25-year-old child psychologist, says many have never dealt with their traumas and don’t know how to help their children.

Experts say trauma begins to set in several weeks after an event, as people progress out of a period of “acute stress.”

On Friday, Unicef estimated that half of the children they surveyed in Beirut are already showing signs.

11-year-old Mira still has flashbacks.

“I heard a sound and something exploded. I was still in the shower. Then heard a really loud sound, closed my ears, and hid under the sink.

Yesterday night I was asleep and my brother was playing with a plastic container. I was startled by the sound and woke up. Dad had to read me the Quran to help me fall asleep again.”

Video Transcript

Flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety– are the signs of trauma haunting the residents of Beirut.

JOSEPHINE: You couldn’t really see anything but people rushing, screams, sound sweeps, glass shatters. You can’t even walk because some things are still falling from the buildings.

Two weeks after the deadly explosion, practitioners are warning of a national mental health emergency. The blast decimated the city and killed 181 people. But for volunteers like Josephine, there was no time to heal.

JOSEPHINE: Very, very quickly. You have no idea. We cleaned in one day. People came in to volunteer. What I do is I give the station now. I’m responsible of the kitchen and I deliver hot meals at lunchtime.

Stigma towards mental health is rife in Lebanon– a country hardened by past wars and sectarian conflict. But this blast caught Lebanon at an extremely vulnerable point after months of severe economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Psychologists say the explosion was a tipping point now being exacerbated by the constant stream of images on Lebanese TV and social media.

I kept watching the explosion on the video from different angles. Just thinking is a nightmare? Did it really happen? What are we going to do?

Many mental health professionals have mobilized in the wake of the blast to offer their services and post tips on social media. For older Lebanese residents, the blast triggered memories of the 1975 to 1990 civil war and the 2006 war with Israel. Ola Khodor, a 25-year-old child psychologist, says many have never dealt with their traumas and don’t know how to help their children.

OLA KHODOR: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

Experts say trauma begins to set in several weeks after an event, as people progress out of a period of acute stress. On Friday, Unicef estimated that half of the children they surveyed in Beirut are already showing signs. 11-year-old Mira still has flashbacks.

MIRA: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

INTERPRETER: I heard a sound and something exploded. I was still in the shower, then heard a really loud sound, closed my ears, and hid under the sink. Yesterday I was asleep, and my brother was playing with a plastic container. I was startled by the sound and woke up. Dad had to read me the Quran to help me fall asleep again.

MIRA: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

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