Embrace Mental Illness: A Helpline that Could Save Lives

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Being an ex-pre-med student, I have a handful of doctor friends who keep me in the loop about the state of our country when it comes to health and public services. One of my besties is a psych researcher at AUBMC and besides his tendency to diagnose anyone we meet on the fly, he is part of a department that is providing a special kind of aid to a chunk of our population that is kept under wraps. He tells me that so many of these cases are manageable if patients get the right treatment, medication, and care. It’s not like having a damaged liver or a ruptured appendix; many conditions can’t be solved in one episode of Grey’s Anatomy. They require long-term maintenance. Although they are linked to brain chemistry, mental illnesses are more abstract but also very intertwined with our region’s opinion of them. There is empathy for cancer patients but not for those with a debilitating mental condition even though both are medical scenarios not in the person’s control.

Let’s talk numbers:

  • Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults ages 15-29.
  • More than 90% of suicides are people who are suffering from mental illnesses that can be treated.

But that’s globally, it’s different in Lebanon…

Actually, our numbers are even scarier. Based on an unpublished study conducted by the Embrace Fund and the Psych Dept of AUBMC, it’s estimated that, in Lebanon, one person dies of suicide every 2.5 days. 

International stats say that for every completed suicide, there are 10-20 suicide attempts. In Lebanon, that would mean 1 attempt every 5 hours. What we must keep in mind is that these statistics are based on reported figures; there are other cases that may have been kept hush-hush so, knowing that suicide has a social and religious stigma and is not talked about openly, this number could be higher in reality.

The most alarming part of this is that it is avoidable. Not only is suicide a social taboo but so is mental illness. We are too quick to label therapy as “treatment for the unstable/crazy” and deem it as unnecessary if you consider yourself “normal.” Those who wish to seek help feel ashamed rather than comforted which further damages the healing process. It takes courage to reach out and be vulnerable. As a community, we should create a supportive network for our fellow humans instead of making them think twice about seeking assistance.

The Embrace Fund is doing its best to combat this way of thinking and the first step is by creating the first emotional crisis and suicide helpline in Lebanon. This helpline is focused mainly on suicide prevention but also “emotional support, risk assessment, crisis intervention, linkages to local services, and follow-up for persons with potential suicide risk factors.” Those working at the call center would be trained professionals who can be a lost person’s guiding light.

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Right now, Embrace are in the planning & development phase: adapting and translating training material to Arabic, finalizing standard operating procedures, monitoring & evaluation plan, referral system coordination with the Ministry of Public Health, national conference and key stakeholder interviews, and ongoing fundraising.

Sounds like they’re on the right track but how can I help?

Embrace is having a fundraiser shindig at Myu this Tuesday night. It’s $60/person for 2 premium drinks or $120 for open premium bar and seated dinner. There’s live entertainment, good music, and, more than likely, lots of attractive people. Tickets available here.

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Mental illnesses are not reserved for any type of person, we are all equal when it comes to matters that affect the brain. This is an initiative that could help your best friend, your boo, or you. You can spend the 60 bucks on an overcooked steak dinner or you can spare your arteries and put it into a fun night on a rooftop that will finance a service greater than yourself.

It’s a harsh world out there, if we’re the city that parties our troubles away, let’s prove it.

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