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.
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.
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