Awareness growing of mental health and its treatments

One therapist noted that many people think it is normal to worry constantly on a daily basis, but in fact, it is not.(Annahar graphic)

BEIRUT: Psychological health is starting to gain equal traction to physical health in Lebanon.

Mental illnesses, which range from psychosis to more common diseases such as anxiety, are not that well understood in the region, according to Dr. Samar Zebian, Associate Professor of Psychology at the Lebanese American University.
“People do not understand mental health, which in turn makes them fear it. Creating a misunderstanding in regards to the subject, especially that some believe that mental illnesses are contagious like a cold. But in reality how people are affected by it is much more complicated than that, it can be positive or negative depending on how one views it.”

Dr. Zebian went on to speak about the negative connotation of how people view mental health. She used an example of how a mental health problem might harm a relationship. In the case of bipolarity, the switch from a manic phase to a depressive one, can cause a person’s partner to believe that the mentally ill person doesn’t love them anymore, or that the person is even doing it on purpose. But she went on to clarify that it is not the relationship that is in question, but rather a hormonal imbalance.

Experts in Lebanon do believe that there is a number of reasons for dismissing the importance of mental health in the country. Dr. Zebian considers one of the reasons is that the country has an accessibility issue. People do not know where to get help and for those who might know where to go, avoid doing so as they consider themselves crazy or weak, they believe it is a self attributed disease.

Dania Dbaibo, a counselor and life coach at Strides Clinic emphasized the same point. “People often believe that a mentally ill person is weak, especially in the work place where a person might be afraid of getting a promotion because he/she is mentally ill,” she said.

But Dbaibo believes that the younger generation is more aware of these issues, because they are more oriented toward self improvement and are more curious. She also noted how the media has played a big role in raising awareness about mental health.

She also stated that in her clinic many young patients do not inform their parents about coming to see her for counseling. This in turn makes it a financial burden for them. The reason why her young clients do not inform their parents is that they believe their parents do not understand mental health issues.

Norma Moussally, senior counselor at the Lebanese American University further explained that the older generation does not have enough information about mental health. She believes that they are not as aware about this issue, they do not understand the fact that there are many types of medication that each serves a different purpose in treatment.

Instead they put all medications under one umbrella.

Moussally believes that Lebanese society should encourage people who have mental illnesses to seek help because they can have a normal life with good treatment. “Just like people with diabetes can live a normal life with good treatment, so can a person with a mental illness,” she added.

Although no specific number exists, based on anecdotal evidence all three specialists believe that the most common mental illnesses in the country are anxiety and depression. Moussally believes that the triggers for these two mental illnesses start from the age of 18 – 21 when the adolescent starts undergoing stressful life events.

Dr. Zebian added that people think it is normal to worry constantly on a daily basis, but in fact, it is not. “We live in a chaotic country with chronic and societal violence. Social support networks are failing, there is sound pollution, economic problems, constant daily hassle, extreme instability and political concerns which all lead to the high number of anxiety cases in our country,” Dr. Zebian explained.

Whereas Dbaibo believes that these two mental illnesses are correlated, whereby one leads to the other. Constant and severe anxiety eventually leads to depression and vice versa. She also added the effect of Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that resulted from the Lebanese civil war which makes people more prone to the triggers of these types of mental illnesses.

Dr Zebian and Moussally later went on to talk about the solutions to this epidemic. They both believe that the profession should be regulated with a specific set of standards set by the Lebanese government. Nevertheless, people should work at normalizing the issue. This starts in schools and universities by adding the availability of counselors and educational programs in respect to psychology.

People with mental illnesses’ opinion are as equally important, especially for examining this controversial issue from a different angle.

A psychology graduate with the initials N.C said that the first time he saw a psychologist, he was excited to start his therapy. He noticed positive change in his attitude, his emotional wellbeing and his cognitive ability. “Therapy is for everyone, it helps the person discover themselves first and foremost. It has brought to me something positive which society condemns which is being myself,” he added.

He also said that most people face these issues because of lack of awareness and acceptance. The first reaction he would usually get is “come on it is all in your head, there is nothing wrong with you” or “are you going to whine like a little girl.”This leads individuals to refrain more from sharing, for fear of being perceived as weak makes the situation worse.

Rachelle (declined to give her last name), believes that this taboo stems from a cause of hyper masculinity within the Lebanese society. He added that people do not open up easily since they feel they don’t have the right support.

She explained this by using a personal example of how her family would be difficult when she would go through hard times. She would be anti social and wasn’t fond of either visiting family members or talking because of her mood.

“They would always ask my mother what is wrong with me, why didn’t I smile more often since it suits me. Instead of actually asking me what was wrong, they framed their comments based on the fact that my unhappiness was inconveniencing them,” she said.

Another patient told Annahar about the way people made her feel reflected tremendously on worsening her mental illness.

Leen Farhat, a psychology student at the American University of Beirut believes that this steams from the lack of psycho education and the patriarchal society which pressures the man to be the provider. This in turn forces the man to be strong and not complain.

She noted the misconception people have about most mental illnesses. “Once someone told me that they organize their shoes a lot, therefore believing they have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), this is not what OCD is and it is offensive to the individuals that have it. My friend has it and he is overwhelmed with his thoughts constantly,” Leen told Annahar. She emphasized the importance of people not belittling a disease.

She later added that in her case, she has panic disorder which makes her feel that no one likes her or no one wants to hang out with her. At times she couldn’t do her exams which made her feel incompetent and that she didn’t deserve to be at AUB. This made her go through depression, realizing later on that she needed professional help.

Now after going to several therapists till she found the right one, Leen is on the path to recovery.

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