Médecins Sans Frontières Celebrates World Mental Health Day in Lebanon

October 17, 2010

Médecins Sans Frontières Celebrates World Mental Health Day in Lebanon 2010 © MSF

In Lebanon, MSF runs a mental health project, which targets the highly crowded and deprived area of Burj el-Barajneh, located in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The project primarily serves the Palestinian refugee community and the most vulnerable Lebanese living in the area by providing a free of charge mental health care package.

On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, MSF organised a theatrical performance in the Palestinian refugee camp of Burj el-Barajneh and an art exhibition in its Community Mental Health Centre outside the camp, on October 9th and 10th.

The theatrical performance aimed at raising awareness about mental health issues within the community. It was “inspired by mental health disorders that are common inside and outside the refugee camp and based on the World Health Oganisation’s (WHO) definition of mental health that a healthy being comprises physical, mental and social health”, said the Director of the play, Aliya Khalidi.

The play, which is humorous in nature, incorporates “visual elements, such as shadows to convey a complex idea like mental health in a simple way”, added Khalidi.

The importance of the art psychotherapy exhibition, on the other hand, is to highlight the fact that individuals suffering a mental health disorder are able to think and be creative about their illnesses. The exhibition is proof that these individuals have feelings and emotions and can express them, just like anyone else.

Rita Chehwane, a Psychotherapist at MSF’s project, who conducts art psychotherapy sessions with the patients, says “these workshops offer therapy through art, whereby certain mechanisms and materials are used to allow beneficiaries to express their deepest, innermost suppressed feelings as a tool to identify, visualize and reflect them to the other by giving them shape and colour that corresponds with the feeling they want to express”.

Throughout both days of the exhibition, beneficiaries frequented the centre, at times alone and at others with their families, and expressed their pride in the fact that the MSF has taken pride in them by exhibiting their works.

The two-day event began with an opening in the Palestinian refugee camp that gathered some of the Palestinian refugee community living in the camp, as well as local organisations and partners.

The Palestinian Ambassador in Lebanon, His Excellency Abdullah Abdullah, the Director of the Health Department at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Suha Ismail, and MSF’s Head of Mission in Lebanon, Fabio Forgione, made opening remarks before resumption of activities.

Mr. Forgione stated that “the reason behind the celebration of this event by MSF is to strengthen the image, visibility and acknowledgement of MSF as a health actor in Lebanon, especially in mental health, on both the Lebanese and Palestinian sides, in order to strengthen relationships within community that we work with”.

He added that the aim is to “materialize the concept of mental health, as it is normally abstract and surrounded by stigma and lack of understanding, through an art exhibition, which shows the expression of patients, through art, of the disorders they suffer, as well as a theatre play, which discusses the perception of mental health in the community”.

Between the opening of the project in January 2009 and September 2010, MSF has offered mental health care to 987 new patients and 6,641 consultations have been provided by psychologists and psychiatrists.

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