The day is August 5th, only 24 hours after the deadly blast hit Beirut’s port.
The sky is gray. Those who survived the explosion that ripped through the Lebanese capital walk around walls that doubtlessly were home to many in the fairly recent past, yet now it felt like an unfamiliar maze to all.
Corruption and negligence fell on the words of politicians that spoke to nobody, unaware that their audience has vanished, and that the streets lay silent in grief.
On August 4th, 2020, a ferocious explosion ripped through the port warehouses near central Beirut in Lebanon, allegedly due to the ignition of highly explosive material being neglected there for years.
Over 200 people have been killed, 6,000 thousand injured, and some 300,000 homeless.
Beirut, the city as it was before just full of welcoming warmth is now blurred like an old painting.
Roofs have caved in, leaving debris scattered across the building’s interior, and banners hang with slogans to only be read by the dust-laden wind.
Almost 11 days later, picking through the wreckage as the sound of glass being cleared fade behind the racket of hammers and the drills of reconstruction, many are struggling to see a way forward.
The trauma of the explosion at the Beirut port is another blow onto people already struggling after surely a bad year.
In October 2019, the hellish scenes in the mountains of south Beirut that caught on fire were swiftly followed by an unprecedented revolution demanding a change of the political system.
Then, the country’s deepest-ever economic crisis completely erased the middle class and impoverished thousands.
According to the UN World Food Program, even before the explosion, 50% of the surveyed Lebanese people said that they were worried about not having enough to eat.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic struck the country and is still an on-going battle.
And now, the catastrophe…
“It’s a catastrophe, it’s incomprehensible. Everyone is traumatized and there is a big mental health impact,” said Iman Nuwayhid, dean of the faculty of health sciences at the American University of Beirut.
The sound of trucks driving past glass-less apartments wake people up at night, while others who cannot begin to fall asleep are consumed with flashbacks of the wailing of ambulance sirens and the terrified screams of helpless people.
The incident was so fierce that psychologists, who are specialized to help victims of war and torture, have left to the streets, going door to door to provide emergency mental healthcare.
“Right now, we can talk about acute stress, people scared, fearing it may happen again, and lots of anger, we’re seeing so much anger,” Joelle Wehbe, a clinical psychologist at the Restart Center, specialized in rehabilitating victims of war, told Al Jazeera.
She encouraged survivors to speak about what they saw, heard, and felt, rather than pushing it down, which would only “amplify the symptoms.”
Non-governmental mental health organizations have also quickly responded in the aftermath of the blast by organizing support tents in the worst-affected areas of the city, and multiple psychologists and therapists are offering their services for free.
Among them is Diala Itani, a psychotherapist and counselor who is using her skills to provide free sessions via phone or video call to those affected by the incident.
“I’ve had at least 10 people call me so far, and each person has reacted to the trauma in their own way and at a different pace,” Itani told Al-Arabiya.
“What I am encouraging is that people try their best to express themselves and allow time to process the emotional shock of such a singularly tragic event, now is the time to be sad and to be mad.”
You’re not alone, and it is vital to look after your mental health and wellbeing.
If you are experiencing psychological symptoms that are affecting your day to day life, it is important to get professional help as soon as possible so you can begin to get better.
There are a huge number of non-profit organizations that are offering advice or a listening ear, including Nehna Hadak, please consider them.
As the people are currently fighting the devastation by cleaning the rubbles, repairing, and rebuilding, we ought to also do so to our mental state and allocate efforts to our need to heal.
Let no one say that what happened is just another drama. It isn’t. We’ve been hit harder than ever and, to rise and lift Beirut back to its glorious status, we must also work on healing.
Here is a guide to centers and psychologists currently offering free help to all those enduring the trauma of the explosion.