Promoting Mental Health & Well-Being in Libya
Posted January 02, 2013
Following the outbreak of conflict in Libya in February 2011, International Medical Corps was one of the first international humanitarian organizations on the ground providing emergency medical services. Fast forward to June 2012—right before the first democratic elections in 40 years—International Medical Corps’ Jaya Vadlamudi went to Libya to see their projects first-hand, including health care services delivery and local staff training.
It seemed like every public surface in Libya had a freshly painted sign with either the new Libyan flag or the word “Freedom” proudly displayed. It was a constant reminder that although Libya’s culture is deeply rooted and its institutions are old, its atmosphere feels young and full of possibilities.
As we walked by the newly named “Martyrs’ Square” in downtown Tripoli, Abdulrahman, a Psychological First Aid (PFA) trainer for International Medical Corps, showed me photos on his phone of him celebrating with friends here after a recent soccer match. “Last year, no one was allowed in this square. Look how many people gathered,” he said.
Libyans have fought hard for the right to take charge of their own freedom and futures. But the wounds of war—both physical and emotional—run deep for many of the local people I met. They spoke of how hard it was to fight in the conflict or see their loved ones risking their lives. Many recounted losing family members or witnessing horrific events in their own hometowns. I find it hard to imagine war coming to my own neighborhood; how would I, let alone children who witness conflict, be able to return to normal, everyday life?
For a country with a weak health system and a stigma against mental health needs, there are critical gaps in care in Libya. That means many families are suffering. Through support from GE, International Medical Corps has been working to increase the country’s capacity to manage war-related distress. The organization is training local health workers in PFA, and working to increase awareness of gender-based violence. Mental health services have been integrated into all of International Medical Corps’ programs that deliver primary health care in Libya.
“There are still a lot of needs in our society regarding psychological first aid,” said Abdulrahman. “We are training people such as nurses, doctors, and humanitarian responders because they are the ones on the frontlines after any disaster.”
Designed to help people in a supportive and practical manner, the trainings are conducted throughout the country in areas where health needs are high. This includes the Western Mountains, Misurata and Sirte, all areas where extreme fighting has taken place.
“We always keep telling them in the training—they can provide PFA skills such as supportive listening in their homes, in the streets with friends, in their workplace, in clinics or hospitals. And also we’ve trained teachers who can provide psychosocial support in their schools,” explained Abdulrahman, who encourages using positive coping skills like listening to music, drawing or going out with friends. “At the follow-up trainings, we really see the difference between their way of dealing with patients before the training and after.”
At one session I attended at Ryayna Health Clinic in the Western Mountains, I saw first-hand the impact that Abdulrahman had on the local community. He has been able to impart his knowledge to roughly 15 nurses, exponentially increasing local capacity to support people experiencing distress in this remote area. Consequently, these nurses have become trusted members of the local community who can help their neighbors in a culturally appropriate and comfortable environment.
“I really appreciate this work because we all have experienced something like this with our own families and our friends who have suffered during the conflict,” Abdulrahman said.
In addition to mental health and psychosocial support, International Medical Corps in Libya is also building the capacity of the rehabilitation sector and providing primary health care support, nursing support and prevention of, and response to, gender-based violence through generous support from GE.