Mental health and psychosocial well-being in Libya

Child sitting in a refugee camp. Child sitting in a refugee camp. © Photo by cloverphoto on iStock.

This article is a brief presentation of the report issued by the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Technical Working Group on Libya.

The Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Technical Working Group in Libya, chaired by the World Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Medical Corps (IMC), was established with the aim of coordinating the various actors in the country and supporting them in implementing strategies to address the mental health needs of the population. This report aims to take a snapshot of the MHPSS situation observed in the country between September and December 2020.

Mental and psychosocial health are two fundamental conditions for the well-being of individuals. In Libya, the situation regarding mental disorders is particularly worrying, due to the near-collapse of the health system and the total lack of information and research on mental health conditions in conflict contexts.. 

Libya is a profoundly unstable country at the political level. In the last decade it has been the scene of a civil war that has had devastating effects on the population and on essential facilities, such as schools and hospitals. The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to exacerbating health facilities that were already struggling due to the effects of the conflict, with more than half being forced to close in 2019, especially in rural areas. Libya in 2020 achieved the second highest number of attacks on health facilities in the world, indeed between January and September it recorded 28 attacks on medical facilities, some of them dedicated to the assistance of patients affected by COVID-19, which according to data from the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) as of October 2020 amounted to 26,328. In light of this, MHPSS needs are often de-prioritized in conflict zones, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates of one in five people suffering from mental disorders in areas characterized by tension and violence.

MHPSS is used to describe any kind of support that aims to prevent mental disorders and promote psychosocial well-being. The data collected in this report show a multilevel approach to MHPSS. The first level is represented by basic services, which are a necessary condition to ensure mental health and psychosocial well-being. In Libya, in the period September-December 2020, these services were provided in a limited or almost insufficient amount, particularly for the most vulnerable. On the second level, community support services, especially due to the pandemic, were severely limited. The various social actors in Libya have focused mainly on the provision of services belonging to the third and fourth levels, i.e. provision of targeted non-specialized support and specialized services, such as clinical care by mental health professionals. The study carried out by the MHPSS TWG also highlighted the inequalities that exist between the different regions of the country in relation to health coverage, for example the South of Libya is particularly affected by the absence of specialized psychiatric care. 

IOM and IMC, as coordinators of the MHPSS, were in charge of analyzing in depth the mental health situation in Libya and the needs of the population, thus facilitating coordination with MHPSS actors working on the ground and developing an annual action plan for 2021. There are many MHPSS organizations active in Libya, from the Libyan Red Crescent to the Libyan Organization for Psychological Counselling and Therapy, to centres that mainly deal with women survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), such as the Al Bayan and Anti al Watan Women Training and Support Centre. There are also many international actors involved, in fact, in addition to the IMC and IOM, organizations such as Handicap International or the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are developing many activities related to the MHPSS on the ground. The IRC for example provides specialized and non-specialized assistance in primary health care facilities to those suffering from mental disorders, and so far has reached a total of 158 beneficiaries, of which 58% are women.

What emerges in the MHPSS Technical Working Group report is the strong need for specialized and non-specialized psychological support by the population living in territories characterized by uncertainty and instability, such as Libya. In particular, the authors argue the need to change the psychiatric model of intervention, adopting new MHPSS approaches aimed at the community, so as to promote the idea of individuals as agents of change and not as mere users of services.


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Author: Francesca Mencuccini; Editor: Carla Leonetti

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