The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the ongoing civil unrest and the economic crisis in Lebanon have negatively impacted children’s mental health in Lebanon. Amid several crises, Lebanon is noting higher rates of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, among the nation’s children.
Overview of Children’s Health in Lebanon
A 2022 Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents in Lebanon Study (PALS) study found that 32.7% out of 1,517 children and adolescents in Lebanon screened positive for at least one psychiatric disorder. However, only 5% of these children sought professional mental health help.
The high prevalence of psychiatric symptoms in Lebanese children and adolescents alerted the need for adequate mental health prevention programs. In 2022, approximately one in five aged between 15-24 reported that they have depression.
Political Crisis in Lebanon
On October 17, 2019, Lebanese launched mass anti-government protests in a response to new tax measures and corruption. During the protests, businesses and banks closed causing a financial crisis. These mass protests impacted the families in Lebanon financially, pulling many children out of private schools.
News Medical has found that education impacts the mental health outcome of children. In fact, “Higher levels of education have been associated with better mental health.” Low levels of education are linked to “a lack of sense of control and resilience,” which puts an individual at a higher risk of depression.
Economic Crisis in Lebanon
According to the World Bank, Lebanon is “facing one of the world’s worst economic and financial crises,” the United States Institute of Peace reported. According to the statistics in 2021 from the World Bank, Lebanon’s economy has decreased by 58.1% since 2019 and the national GDP declined by 10.5% in 2021.
In fact, Lebanon’s contraction was the largest contraction out of 193 countries. Besides the impact of the pandemic, the blast in the Port of Beirut aggravated the economic crisis in Lebanon. On August 4, 2020, the Port of Beirut exploded resulting in many casualties, injuries and massive destruction. The explosion at Beirut’s port killed at least 218 people and wounded 7,000 people.
Economic fallout in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion along with the COVID-19 has put the families and children in danger of poverty and food insecurity. In 2021, the World Food Program (WFP) reported that 6.7 million Lebanese and the entire Syrian refugee population of 1.5 million are living in severe poverty.
Looking at the correlation between the economic situation and the child’s mental health according to the research article published in Health Economics, children’s mental health outcomes worsen as the economy weakens.
Environmental factors such as food insecurity and poverty because of the economic meltdown had a direct impact on the well-being of Lebanese families leading to the poor mental state of children in Lebanon.
COVID-19 in Lebanon
In January 2021, due to a massive resurgence of new cases of COVID-19, the government ordered a strict lockdown. This caused many citizens to feel isolated and disconnected due to a lack of socialization and confinement within homes. It adversely impacted the mental health of citizens, who, as a result, struggled with stress, anxiety, depression and more.
Improving Mental Health in Lebanon
The United Nations in Lebanon worked in conjunction with the National Mental Health Programme in the Ministry of Public Health to create “a mental health and psychological support action plan as part of the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak.”
As part of the plan, the U.N. and its partners raised awareness of ways to manage stress and mental health by sharing psychosocial support kits for children in hospitals and providing remote community-based mental health support kits to 5,975 children and parents, UNICEF reported.
In 2020, UNICEF Representative Yukie Mokuo said that “50% of mental disorders start before the age of 14 and 75% by the mid-20s.” The U.N. also launched the campaign in 2020 under the name of “How Are you Doing in Corona Times?” targeting to raise awareness and identify mental health status specifically among the youth population, according to UNICEF.
The other environmental contributing factors that impact children’s mental health are under control by international efforts. In 2022, on March 23, USAID provided nearly $64 million in humanitarian assistance in a response to Lebanon’s economic detraction and food insecurity. The United States government has contributed nearly $510 million in assistance to Lebanon since October 2020.
Lebanon’s progressive approaches to raising awareness of children’s mental health with national efforts along with the help of international aid show positive prospect for the future of child mental health conditions. Considering the future of children’s mental health in Lebanon, the nation should prioritize implementing initiatives and adequate policies to promote positive mental health among children in Lebanon.
– Youngwook Chun