Speaking up to deal with suicide

Her trainers beating down on the pavement along Beirut’s seafront, Nour Safieddine, 24, cuts past strollers ambling in the evening sun. “I run to carry on, so life can smile at me even if it made me cry — or in fact, not to die after the thought of suicide crept into my head,” the journalist and graduate student wrote recently.

In Lebanon, mental health and suicide have long been deeply taboo subjects. One in three adults in Lebanon may develop a mental disorder by the age of 75, a 2008 study found.

The small Mediterranean country has been rocked by decades of war, and weathered endless political crises in recent years as it fights to stave off an economic meltdown.

To shake the mould and help save lives, Lebanese like Ms. Safieddine are speaking up. The sudden deaths of her sister and father around one year ago sent her into crippling depression, but running has helped pull her out. In May, she bravely shared her own struggle with depression in a public social media post. “I decided I had to give positive energy to these people and remind them that life is worth living and that they deserve to live,” the athlete said.

She was surprised by the positive response. “I felt like my experience was the experience of many people who hadn’t dared to speak up about what they were going through,” she said.

The first seven months of this year alone have seen 89 suicides in Lebanon, compared with 143 for all of 2017, according to Lebanon’s security forces.

This year’s rate amounts to roughly one suicide every two and a half days, but social norms in Lebanon may mean suicides are under-reported.

To fight rising numbers, a group of mental health professionals and volunteers launched Lebanon’s first suicide prevention hotline in late 2017.

The Embrace Lifeline has received around 600 calls since November, said Omar Ghosn, a psychiatrist and board member of the Embrace association behind it.

“Callers are women and men of all ages,” but teenagers especially rely on the service, said Sally, who like other hotline volunteers did not give her second name. Authorities say they are working on preventing suicides, including through better access to mental healthcare.

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