Mental Health in Libya
Many regard Libya as a war-torn developing country, but media coverage of the conflict often disregards the underlying mental health crisis. In 2020, the world saw a global increase in Common Mental Disorders (CMD) and Libya is no exception. As a result of many factors, including war and lack of resources, mental health services in Libya are lacking. Despite this, NGOs and agencies are working to improve mental health in Libya.

The Impact of War

According to a study by Sheikh Shoib and others published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry in 2022, conflict and war affect the mental health of about 50% of Libya’s population, but less than 10% receive adequate help and support.

The World Health Organization (WHO) World Health Report 2001 estimated that, in situations of armed conflicts throughout the world, “10% of the people who experience traumatic events will have serious mental health problems and another 10% will develop behavior that will hinder their ability to function effectively.” Furthermore, the most common mental impacts include depression, anxiety and psychosomatic problems. Research shows that conflict and war cause more death and disability than any other significant disease.

Lack of Resources

Because Libya is a hotspot of conflict, research in the field of mental health is not a priority as the government directs time and resources toward “addressing elevated morbidity, mortality and health system challenges directly and/or indirectly associated to war,” a study by Nassim El Achi and others says. When political authorities and governments focus their agendas on engaging in conflict, the population suffers due to a lack of resources.

The 2020 Mental Health Atlas by WHO indicates a total of 84 licensed psychiatrists in the whole of Libya, which means less than two psychiatrists per 100,000 members of the population. In comparison, in 2015, the U.S. had 16 psychiatrists per 100,00 people.

The Mental Health Atlas 2020 showed that per 100,000 population, the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR), which includes Libya, has approximately eight mental health workers made up of one psychiatrist, one psychologist, three psychiatric nurses, 0.4 social workers and 0.7 other types of mental health workers, highlighting the scarcity of trained mental health professionals in the EMR region at large.

Research in the study of mental health in Libya is also lacking due to underfunding considering the economic state of the country as a result of the war. With few studies, the availability of epidemiological data in regard to mental health is limited, making progress difficult to monitor.

Social Stigma

Stigmas and societal taboos can also impact mental health. There is a cultural stigma around women getting divorced and there are gender biases that exacerbate mental health issues, particularly for women. Women only make up 25.7% of the labor force in Libya, which demonstrates that women do not have the same autonomy as men, which may worsen mental health issues. Additionally, cultural beliefs impact mental health as society attributes mental illness to bad spirits or “jinn.” People often deny the existence of mental illnesses due to the taboo nature of a diagnosis.

Looking Forward

Although the situation surrounding mental health in Libya does seem dire, organizations are working toward improving mental health facilities and services in Libya and other MENA countries.

Hope Charity is a charity that supports Libyan women’s mental health, founded by Rugaya Gleasa’s late husband, Omar Mettawa. Hope Charity supports Libyan women with capacity-building programs, including tech training, English lessons, nursing training and sewing and cooking lessons, which will allow women to gain autonomy and improve their mental well-being. Since 2011, Hope Charity has helped more than 250,000 women, many of whom run their own small businesses now.

The charity also offers psychosocial and legal support to women in Libya to promote their well-being. Providing psychosocial support is one of the most difficult tasks for the charity due to societal taboos surrounding mental health, however, it is extremely rewarding. The charity has since become well-recognized and established within the field of mental health in Libya and women are now seeking out the charity, specifically for psychosocial support, demonstrating the impact Hope Charity has had in shifting societal perceptions of mental health.

The mental health situation in countries facing conflict is dire, however, it is not without resolution. By supporting charities and nonprofit organizations that work to improve mental health in Libya, the well-being of Libyans can improve.

– Safa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya

In Libya, approximately 823,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance. This prompted the World Health Organization to create a Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya (HRP). Through this plan, WHO targets 552,000 individuals suffering from the Libyan Crisis, which stems from the Arab uprisings and revolts in 2011.

WHO, as well as partner organizations, plans to provide humanitarian assistance that focuses on key needs such as protection, access to healthcare, education, safe drinking water and sanitation and access to household goods such as essential food and non-food items (NFIs). Here is a look inside WHO’s 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya.

Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya

WHO’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya targets seven sectors: education; health; protection; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); food security; shelter and non-food items and multipurpose cash. The health sector has the largest portion of people in need, with approximately 554,000 individuals. The two main objectives of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya are to

  • “provide and improve safe and dignified access to essential goods and critical public services in synergy with sustainable development assistance,” and
  • “enhance protection and promote adherence to International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights Law and International Refugee Law.”

This plan requires $202 million in funding. Therefore, each sector has designated funding based on the goals it plans to implement. The main sectors and their goals are as follows.

  1. Protection: The protection sector is geographically focused. The prioritized areas have the most severe conditions. The 2019 plan intends to bridge the gaps in data regarding protection from past years. The HRP also plans to expand protection monitoring, protection assessments and quality of services as well as reinforce community-based responses.
  2. Health: Several healthcare facilities were destroyed and damaged during the crisis. Non-communicable diseases have started to spread throughout Libya as well. The plan provides access to health services at primary and secondary levels. It also aims to monitor diseases. In addition, the plan prioritizes WASH programs, mental health and psychosocial support.
  3. WASH: Another key focus of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya is WASH. The plan hopes to focus its attention on newly displaced persons. Thus, the goals of the WASH sector aim to improve WASH facilities in detention centers, respond to urgent needs and technical support. In doing so, the plan hopes to ensure children have access to safe WASH facilities. It also advocates for the repair of the Man-Made River Project. Moreover, this sector will collaborate with the education sector.
  4. Education: The education sector plans to target 71,000 individuals. Children in high conflict areas are being mentally affected by trauma and distress. These can further affect school attendance and performance. The HRP wants to improve formal education by means of teacher training and provide more supplies for educators. As such, this sector will also prioritize mental health in grades 1-12.
  5. Shelter/NFIs: Shelter and NFI sector focuses on the population displacement as well as damages to infrastructure and homes caused by the uprisings. This sector seeks to secure safe housing for those who are displaced. This sector targets about 195,000 individuals to receive shelter aid.

Overall, the Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya is making strides. As of June 2019, WHO has provided trauma kits and emergency medical supplies to 35 healthcare facilities. This is an increase from the first provision in March. Similarly, medicines for chronic and infectious diseases have been given as well as insulin. In terms of mental health, in January, WHO trained 22 participants in mental health through primary health facilities. The sector also provided training for maternal and reproductive health as well. With this momentum, in time, WHO will continue to meet the goals and targets of the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya.

Logan Derbes
Photo: Flickr