News World Nightmares, flashbacks, fatigue: Beirut faces mental health crisis after blast

Nightmares, flashbacks, fatigue: Beirut faces mental health crisis after blast

More than two weeks after a massive explosion tore through Beirut killing 181 people and leaving entire neighbourhoods in ruins, Sandra Abinader still jumps at the slightest sound.

“The other day, I was trying to open a jar and the popping sound made me jump back and scream. I felt for a second I needed to run away.”

Despite recognising the magnitude of her ordeal, Sandra, 18, said she was not interested in seeking professional help. “We’re used to dealing with our problems on our own,” she said, stoically.

Her attitude is common in Lebanon, a country hardened by past wars and sectarian conflict and where stigma still rules attitudes towards mental health.

But the blast caught Lebanon at an extremely vulnerable point following months of severe economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now practitioners are warning of a national mental health emergency as people begin to show signs of trauma from the explosion, including nightmares, flashbacks, crying, anxiety, anger and exhaustion.

Psychologists say this is being exacerbated by the constant stream of images on Lebanese TV and social media showing the blast and its bloody aftermath.

“Every time we say it can’t get worse in Lebanon, it somehow does,” said Jad Daou, a volunteer with Lebanese mental health NGO Embrace, who mans the phones at its crisis clinic. “A lot of people are feeling hopeless about the entire situation here in Lebanon.”

The explosion was a tipping point. Embrace, which usually receives between 150-200 calls a month, says more people have been reaching out since the blast. The group has stationed volunteers in one of the affected neighbourhoods and has started home visits.

Many mental health professionals have mobilised in the wake of the blast to offer their services and post tips on social media, but some are struggling to cope themselves.

“I never had psychologists say, ‘we are not ready to talk at this moment. I need time to heal for myself,'” said psychologist Warde Bou Daher. “But the trauma affected everyone … they need to heal their own wounds before being able to help others.”

While Sandra insists she has not cried once since it happened, her cousin cannot hold back tears as she recounts her experience of the explosion, which wounded 6,000 people and was so loud it could be heard as far as Cyprus, 100 miles (160 kms) away.

When the blast hit, Lourdes Fakhri ran from the supermarket where she works to her home in the Karantina neighbourhood near the port, one of the worst affected, fearing that her family had been killed.

“There was rubble everywhere, so high. I could picture them all lying there on the floor, with our house on top of them.”

Lourdes’ parents and six siblings survived but the feeling of terror has remained with her.

For older Lebanese, the blast triggered memories of the 1975-1990 civil war and the 2006 war with Israel among others.

Many have never dealt with their traumas and don’t know how to help their children, said Ola Khodor, a 25-year-old child psychologist.

“A lot are telling their children that nothing happened, that it was a game,” Khodor said. “The child deserves to know the truth – not the very detailed truth, but they deserve to know what exactly happened to allow them to grieve and to process the event like they need to.”

Experts say trauma begins to set in several weeks after an event, as people progress out of a period of “acute stress”. Unicef on Friday estimated that half of the children they have surveyed in Beirut are already showing signs.

One father told Reuters that when his four-year-old son came back home for the first time after the explosion, he invented a game called “pretend boom” in which his playhouse was hit by an explosion and rabbits needed rescue from the broken glass.


Top Stories

North Korea warns of naval tensions during search for slain South Korean

  North Korea said it is searching for the body of South Korean official killed by its troops, but warned that South Korean naval operations...

Authorities keep steady pace on Covid checks, more than a thousand on weekend

  Police are not putting their foot off the gas on Covid violation checks, conducting more than a thousand over the weekend. In the past 24...

Cyprus tourism will be back in 2021 let’s save this year, hoteliers say

  The Hoteliers Association sprinkled a message of hope on Cypriots and visitors to the island, promising to intensify efforts for a successful tourism year...

Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of attacking settlements in Nagorno Karabakh

  Armenia said early today that neighbouring Azerbaijan had attacked civilian settlements in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and urged the population in the disputed region to...

Covid cases and deaths remain on the rise in Greece

  Greece continues to record a high number of new coronavirus cases daily, while sadly deaths are also on the rise. Over the past 24 hours,...



Sheftalies, a very tasty dish from the charcoal grill, are minced meat shaped into small sausages and wrapped in “panna” (suet). Panna is a...

Spicy grilled soutzoukakia

Place all ingredients for soutzoukakia in a bowl and mix well, preferably using a food processor, until well combined. Using the mixture, form cigar-shaped...


Pork souvlaki: Put the meat and all the other ingredients in a bowl (not metal) and mix well. Cover the bowl and keep in...

Pastelli (Carob Toffee)

The nutritional sweet of Pastelli is made with the syrup of carob pods, produced by boiling their pulp until it forms a thick, sticky...