Mental health in Lebanon
LAU’s psychiatry professors raise awareness of a widely misunderstood topic
“There is tremendous need for mental health services in Lebanon. What’s changing is that people are more open to receiving psychiatric care,” says LAU’s new head of psychiatry, Dr. Elias Rizkallah Abou Jaoude, who is helping set up the School of Medicine’s new psychiatry service and residency program.
Abou Jaoude studied, taught and practiced psychiatry at Stanford University. “I know how people here talked about psychiatry five years ago and how they do now,” he says of Lebanon. “There’s still stigma attached, as there is in U.S. and Europe, but relatively speaking it is getting better.”
At LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital, Abou Jaoude has seen with a variety of conditions, including depression, addiction, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorders, and anxiety. “I think the rates of different conditions and the demographics of the patients in Lebanon are similar to international rates, but this hasn’t been studied adequately,” he explains.
What is somewhat unique to Lebanon, however, says Abou Jaoude, is medication addiction and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) “because of the ease with which people can buy medication without prescription and the endless traumas that people in this population are subjected to.”
Zeina Al Jordi, a clinical instructor at the School of Nursing, agrees. “Wars add pressure to our population. So does drug abuse. We have many patients with psychosis triggered by abuse of marijuana.” Like Abou Jaoude, Jordi is also a recent addition to the university. After gaining a degree in nursing, a master’s in psychiatric nursing and six years experience at the in-patient psychiatric unit at AUB, she joined the LAU faculty last year.
Jordi and Abou Jaoude agree that environmental factors are but a trigger for someone already at risk. “The root cause of psychiatric disorders is genetics. It’s like diabetes. It can be triggered by stress or drugs or the gene may activate without being triggered,” explains Jordi. But, reassures Abou Jaoude, “it doesn’t mean that if you’re mother has OCD, for example, that you will develop it, only that you’re vulnerable to developing the disorder.”
Some disorders are more evidently linked to environmental triggers than others. “PTSD is basically a disorder that follows a traumatic event,” explains Abou Jaoude. “In the majority of people with depression there is no clear intense trigger.” The Lebanese, he adds, suffer from a lack of education and knowledge about depression and other psychiatric conditions. “There is more happening in terms of raising awareness, so this is positive,” he says, referring to recent campaigns about suicide and substance abuse.
With the development of the psychiatric unit at LAU Medical Center–Rizk Hospital, LAU will play an increasingly important role in research and awareness raising. “It’s hugely important to the mission to improve mental health in Lebanon. It’s about awareness,” says Abou Jaoude, who has appeared on various Lebanese TV programs in recent months. “I try to give people hope by discussing their problems, explaining the biology behind them and letting them know that their condition is often treatable. It’s an important message to send.”
Other stories in: Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury School of Medicine; LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital.
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