Changing minds about mental health
Marking World Mental Health Day, MarCom talks to Dr. Norma Mousally, counselor at LAU Beirut, about breaking down stigmas associated with mental health.
To mark World Mental Health Day, MarCom talked to Dr. Norma Mousally, a counselor at LAU Beirut, about the stigmas associated with mental health and how to move past them.
During the eight years that you have worked at LAU, what changes have you witnessed with respect to students’ attitudes toward mental health issues?
I have seen some huge shifts in mental health awareness; similarly there has been tremendous progress with respect to an increased willingness to seek help. There has also been a change in terms of a breakdown of the stigma associated with counseling but that has been a bit more gradual. People have always gone to see psychiatrists but they never used to discuss it openly it, today I see that many of my students are much more accepting of the idea of talking about it.
What concerns do some students have that may prevent them from seeking professional help?
Lebanon is a small country; the fear in a small country is that everybody knows everybody. Some students may be hesitant to walk into my office because they think private information may reach the ears of their parents or relatives. To alleviate this fear, we make sure to really emphasize to students that confidentiality is respected.
What types of problems do people who come to see you generally want to discuss?
The sorts of issues that are front and center for many LAU students are mainly everyday problems: academic struggles, relationship problems, and parental conflict. Offering students an opportunity to discuss their problems can help them manage negative feelings. I also have students who come to my office suffering from anxiety, depression, and learning disorders. Less commonly, I talk to students who are suffering from rape, drug abuse or abusive relationships.
If one of your students needs medical attention, where would you send him or her?
We refer students to mental health specialists - psychologists or psychiatrists — depending on their needs and requirements. For cases where medical attention is needed, we usually refer the students to psychiatrists outside of LAU or if they want to remain within LAU they are referred to LAU Medical Center–Rizk Hospital. Then, I make it a point to be in contact with the supervising psychiatrist; sometimes a psychiatrist will call me about changing medications and I might say: “He/she has mid-terms right now, this is not a good time to switch up the medication, how about we try something else.” We have to keep these lines of communication open to ensure that, despite the problems students may be going through, his/her academic career will not be affected.
Many university students experience stress from exams and from being away from their families, how do you differentiate between “normal” anxiety and someone who needs professional attention?
Everyone suffers from feelings of anxiety from time to time. The only way to determine whether someone needs help is when that person feels it has become an issue for him or her. Or they stop being functional. Only when it starts to control your life is it a problem, otherwise anxiety could become a very good motivator to work toward accomplishing goals. The first step before you go to therapy is always the hardest thing — admitting that there is a problem. Once you identify what is preventing you from performing at your best, then you can begin to solve the problem.
For more on LAU’s counseling services see: http://students.lau.edu.lb/hhw/counseling/faq.php