Coming back from despair
One Woman’s Story of Overcoming Depression
They left Sbayne when the bombing started.
It was not the first time violence forced 36-year-old Amal and her family to evacuate their home on the outskirts of Damascus. They had fled before, seeking refuge in a relative’s house nearby, returning when the airstrikes stopped.
This time, however, the bombing did not stop - it intensified. They waited for security to improve for six weeks, but when it never did they packed what belongings they had with them and drove west, crossing the border into Lebanon as refugees.
This was four years ago. Amal, her husband and her four children have settled into an apartment in Baalbek, a town in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. While it is safer, carving out a new life in Lebanon has been a struggle.
Amal’s husband has only been able to find sporadic work as a construction worker, making it hard to scrape by. These struggles pushed Amal and her husband to send their eldest son, 14-year-old Kamal, to Germany along with her brother and sister-in-law in the hope that he could receive a better education.
But life for Kamal did not get easier in Germany. Amal’s brother and sister-in-law did not allow him to stay with them when they arrived in Germany, so Kamal was placed in a children’s home. Amal only speaks to her son occasionally, who says he can't be happy in Germany without her and the rest of his family.
This is when Amal noticed that her moods and behaviour started to change. “I felt I had reached a state of despair and that my life had ended,” she recalls.
Amal became irritable, cried often and gained weight. She often woke up in the middle of the night from nightmares.
“He’s the reason I got to the state of depression that I was in,” Amal says, referring to Kamal. “It’s because I sent my son abroad.”
As the conflict in Syria continues, the number of refugees travelling to neighbouring countries to escape the violence and insecurity has reached unsustainable levels, with more than one million seeking refuge in Lebanon.
Lebanon now has the highest per capita concentration of refugees anywhere in the world and for a small country beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering. International Medical Corps provides primary health care, community health education and mental health support to affected Lebanese families and Syrian refugees like Amal.
One day, a friend who volunteers for International Medical Corps referred Amal to Dari Community Centre in Baalbek, where she started to receive counselling for what was eventually diagnosed as depression. For the first six months, she saw an International Medical Corps case manager each week, as well as a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist, who prescribed her medication. Amal also participated in community support group sessions, which helped her to better interact with different people within her community.
After almost a year, Amal’s condition stabilised.
“After attending the sessions, I felt much better,” Amal says. “I even asked the case manager if there were other community support groups taking place, as I would love to participate in them because the sessions I had attended were very helpful.”
International Medical Corps, with funding from the U.S. The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), is supporting Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Health to train medical providers working in health care centres on how to manage mild to moderate mental health cases at the community level.
Amal finished her treatment in March 2017. Looking back at where she started, Amal says that the community support groups she attended helped her recover.
“I learned more about depression and became more aware of how my actions were destroying my relationship with my husband and children. The dynamics at home were very tense because of me – my kids were always feeling down because I was always yelling at them and I just couldn’t bear any word from them.
“I alienated myself from my family, but after I got help I began giving my children the attention they need. Even my relationship with my husband went back to normal.”
She now encourages others showing signs of depression to seek care at the centre. When asked about her hopes for the future, Amal says: