The nation’s only suicide prevention hotline, Embrace, is overwhelmed by calls from the anguished Lebanese population.

The multifaceted crisis in Lebanon continues to take its toll on the people. Years of political, economic and social frustration has left the Lebanese people in despair, with an increasing amount of people considering suicide as a last resort.

Embrace, an NGO which has a mission of providing and improving mental health practices in Lebanon, runs the only suicide prevention hotline in the country with dozens of calls coming in every day.

The people of Lebanon have witnessed years of corruption and mismanagement along with an irredeemable economy. The trauma of the 2020 Beirut explosion coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the people’s suffering.

Since the previous administration had resigned following last year’s blasts at the Beirut port, the country was left without government for a year until the new government came into the picture this month.

The currency has been losing value each day, the soaring inflation making it impossible for the majority of the country to lead a healthy lifestyle. According to the UN, 74 percent of Lebanon’s population is affected by poverty, while 82 percent is reeling under “multidimensional poverty” which encompasses access to education, healthcare and public utilities in addition to money matters.

The queue outside a gas station. Beirut, Lebanon.
The queue outside a gas station. Beirut, Lebanon. (Hussam Shbaro / AA)

People have been battling with micro stressors like queueing for fuel and navigating power cuts. Hospitals have been struggling to keep their doors open as medical staff including mental health specialists leave the institutions, and access to medicine has become a luxury. Those who can find a way out of the country don't look back. 

These factors have been causing people emotional stress, which facilitates the occurrence of psychological issues.

The Embrace hotline has been receiving approximately 1,100 calls each month, over twice the amount of calls from last year. The calls are anticipated to increase as more and more people fall into despair.

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

Mia Atoui, the NGO’s co-founder and vice president, told AFP "We are receiving similar calls every day... the crisis has worsened enormously."

Boushra, a volunteer operator at Embrace, described their efforts to AFP as "mission impossible," saying they are "supposed to give hope in a country where hope does not exist.”

The number of callers younger than 18 years old has also increased. In July, they took up 15 percent of callers, compared to previous months when the numbers were below 10 percent.

The hotline used to be available for 17 hours, but working hours were upped to 21 hours due to high demand. The NGO aims to have the hotline available for 24 hours.

Operators at Embrace answering calls. Beirut, Lebanon.
Operators at Embrace answering calls. Beirut, Lebanon. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

While the hotline struggles to help callers, the nation faces a shortage of mental health specialists and medication for the treatment of mental disorders. The demand for psychological help has also been increasing, though more and more people are becoming unable to afford it.

Embrace, in line with their mission, runs a free therapy clinic. However, the clinic is booked until October with a waiting list of over 100 people.

Fadi Maalouf, the American University of Beirut Medical Centre’s Psychiatry Department Head, reported an increased number of people seeking treatment. "We are definitely seeing more anxiety and depression, but also more advanced conditions," he told AFP.

According to Maalouf, patients who receive medical treatment that were once stabşe have been neglecting their treatment due to the medicine shortage. Their conditions have been getting worse since.

Lebanon has been going through what has been defined as the most severe economic crisis since the 1850s. It is widely accepted that the surge in suicide rates are related to the economic downturn and the turmoil in the country.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies