Lebanese Students Find Mental Health Support Through Their Universities
BEIRUT—Fallout from Lebanon’s economic crisis, compounded by the loss and isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, has left many Lebanese students struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental-health issues.
Universities, in response, are beefing up their student support services and designing new programmes to help them.
Worries about the future are a common concern for students.
“I have been suffering from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember,” said Daniel, a student at the Lebanese American University who asked to be identified by the pseudonym. “But isolation during lockdown, my parents’ loss of income, fear and insecurity aggravated my mental health conditions even more.” (See a related article, “Lebanese Education Sector Faces ‘Big and Grave’ Losses, Experts Say.”)
The financial breakdown cost Daniel’s father his jobs. Four days before the beginning of the semester, Daniel decided to continue in his part-time job as a bartender in order to earn some income, juggling between work and study.
“It was supposed to be a summer job. My days are very long, sometimes endless, but I try to manage as much as possible,” he said.
“The day I sent that email seeking counseling from the university I was in a state of full mental breakdown. It is very stressful to be worrying about money and fees after having witnessed many deaths because of Covid.”Reem Abou Ibrahim
An architecture student at the Lebanese American University
After he broke down into tears during a job interview, the 21-year-old business major sought free mental health counseling offered by the university. “The incident was an eye-opener for me,” he said. “I have had counseling sessions for a while now and all I can say is that it is literally what I needed right from the beginning.”
A Healing Journey
Reem Abou Ibrahim, an architecture student, was also struggling with mental-health problems that affected her academic performance. Like Daniel, she also found help through the counseling programme.
“The day I sent that email seeking counseling from the university I was in a state of full mental breakdown,” said Abou Ibrahim. “It is very stressful to be worrying about money and fees after having witnessed many deaths because of Covid.”
She described counseling as the first step in her healing journey. “It helps me find a balance between everything that is happening around me, like my parents’ struggle under financial duress, my mental health and university work. It is like fighting multiple battles at a time,” she said.
Like other universities, the Lebanese American University devised special programmes to assist students suffering from mental-health issues. It reinforced its counseling unit and gave students with severe depression and impaired concentration ability the option of taking part-time courses instead of the regular full load of five courses per semester
“Counsellors at the university are overbooked with cases that have to do with depression, social anxiety and exam anxiety,” said Raed Mohsen, the university’s dean of students. (See a related article, “Covid-19 Puts New Focus on Arab Youths’ Mental Health Needs.”)
“Counsellors at the university are overbooked with cases that have to do with depression, social anxiety and exam anxiety.”Raed Mohsen
Dean of students at the Lebanese American University
The quality of education suffered worldwide due to the pandemic, Mohsen said. “Students felt that they were not getting what they would like to get in terms of education. The most affected are premed students who have to compete and work hard to get into medical school.”
Creating a Supporting Environment
Saint Joseph University of Beirut, for its part, launched a special initiative called “Rise to Bloom” in the aftermath of the massive explosion last year that devastated a large swath of the city and claimed the lives of more than 200 people. (See a related article, “Beirut Blast Cripples an Educational and Cultural Capital.”)
The programme offers help to students, faculty and staff.
“The idea was to create a positive environment that is supportive to all of us amid the gloomy situation,” said Fady El Chidiac, executive advisor to the university’s president and the person in charge of the programme. “Many students and faculty were directly affected by the blast. They lost relatives, their homes were destroyed, and their parents’ businesses ruined. They had the feeling that they are doomed and have no future in this country.”
“The students’ main problem is uncertainty about their future,” El Chidiac said. “Should they consider leaving the country? Could they pay their college fees? What is going to happen to them? All these questions that they find no answer for.”
The initiative offers physical and mental-health activities to the university’s community and their families, including group discussions, individual counseling, outdoor activities such as hiking, gardening and cherry picking, and yoga and breathing classes.
“We organised speech and inspirational video competitions to empower students and encourage them to pass positive messages of hope and resilience to support each other,” El Chidiac said.
The university also published a students’ “survival kit” providing guidance on how to live through the pandemic and critical times.
‘There Are Plenty of Solutions’
Despite the protracted crises and daily hassles they face, Lebanese students will have the upper hand if they get the right help, according to Daniel, the Lebanese American University student.
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“I want to tell everyone out there, do not let what is happening in the country affect you, do not let the pandemic distress you, there are plenty of solutions to your problems,” he said.