News & Reports

Study To Map Mental-Health Needs of Lebanese Youth

This article is part of a series on mental health in the Arab world, its impact on Arab youth, and their access to support and treatment. See the companion articles, Anxiety and Depression Often Shadow Arab Youth and Access to Mental-Health Care On Campuses Varies.

BEIRUT—Researchers in Lebanon are trying to get a clear understanding of the mental-health needs of the country’s youth, as a first step toward increasing access to care.

The researchers have already done a pilot study which found that 25 percent of young people in the greater Beirut area suffer from a mental-health problem, a proportion a little higher than the prevalence worldwide, says the lead researcher, Fadi Maalouf of the American University of Beirut Medical Center. Maalouf is chief of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the medical center and says he is one of only four child psychiatrists in the country, which has an estimated population of six million.

What is striking about the pilot study’s findings, Maalouf said, is that only 6 percent of the youths who needed help had sought it. The flip side of that statistic, of course, is that 94 percent of teenagers with mental-health problems are not getting any treatment.

In the United States and Europe, closer to half of teenagers who need to see a mental-health practitioner do, says Maalouf.

According to the Child Mind Institute, an advocacy organization based in New York, about 60 percent of young people with depression in the United States go untreated. That figure rises to 80 percent for those with anxiety.

Maalouf is now engaged with a research project that is looking beyond the Lebanese capital. “In our new project, we have widened our age group to look at ages 4 through 18, and we’re sampling from all over the country,” he says.

National surveys like this are an important first step toward improving access to mental health care, says Suaad Moussa, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Cairo University.  “If you are planning to put policies in place, then it’s critical. If you’re promoting mental health to politicians, then you need to know these things. If you don’t, then you could end up spending resources in the wrong areas and on the wrong disorders,” she says.

About 2,000 households will be randomly selected to take part in the Lebanese study. In homes with more than one child, just one will be chosen.

While the selection process is random, the study’s designers have taken care to ensure that Lebanon’s many different cultural and religious groups will be included.

Maalouf hopes to find out how mental-health needs in Lebanon’s smaller cities and more rural areas differ from those in cosmopolitan Beirut, if in fact there is a difference.

A team of surveyors will interview the parents and a child in each of the homes visited. This information will later be analyzed by more trained mental-health professionals such as Maalouf, who will make the determination about whether the child is at risk of a mental-health problem, and if so, which problem in particular.

“This is the first comprehensive national study,” says Maalouf. “It will help inform what we do next. We need to first understand the extent of the treatment gap, but we also want to know about the disorders that are out there.”


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