Due to the high amount of conflict experienced in Libya following the revolution of 2011, the need for mental health care is slowly being normalized in Libyan society. Since 2017, ACTED has been active in Benghazi, implementing a UNHCR-funded program focused on increasing mental health awareness and, in turn, breaking the stigma attached to seeking mental health services.
Through this project, ACTED works to identify needs for vulnerable households and connect people to psychosocial support when necessary. The team has established an extensive referral database of service providers − primarily civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGO) − that provides services such as psychosocial support, primary medical health care, restoring family links and specialized medical care for women and children in Benghazi.
An essential component of ACTED’s mental health awareness activities is the creation of safe spaces for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Safe spaces have allowed female IDPs to share stories, relate personal experiences, discuss sensitive topics and ask questions in an open, judgement-free environment. These sessions have fostered interaction between ACTED staff and program beneficiaries while contributing to the cultivation of trust between all participants.
I feel happy that the culture of mental health and psychosocial support is moving forward in the right direction, some of these women were so honest and opened up about the subject as I’ve never heard before from a Libyan woman! I was so proud to be a part of this session and being a part of the change in my country even for today’s small group.
Safe spaces are helping raise awareness of the unique issues faced by female IDPs while revealing opportunities to provide psychosocial support, either through therapy sessions or simple knowledge-sharing in a safe space. While the first session was geared towards women, our protection team plans to conduct support sessions targeted towards a more diverse group of participants in order to provide a safe place for the entire community to discuss mental health openly.
ACTED also hosts awareness-raising sessions and focused group discussions facilitated by our helpline assistants. The sessions are designed to assess the mental health needs and issues that exist within each specific community. These sessions, combined with ACTED’s protection helpline, have revealed the importance of mental health services to the holistic recovery of vulnerable households in Benghazi. Through a network of service providers that offer psychosocial support for free, ACTED connects affected persons to critical services. However, it must be noted that there is a limited number of both psychosocial support specialists and service providers.
Since support sessions take place in CSOs halls and meeting rooms in Benghazi, the project has helped foster increased collaboration among institutions. Additionally, it has shed a light on the availability and accessibility of free counselling services in Benghazi, while building awareness within CSOs of who can best benefit from such services.
In the future, ACTED Libya hopes to increase the frequency of support sessions and improve awareness building within the mental health sphere. We will continue to provide safe spaces for IDPs and returnees to access mental health services. Lastly, ACTED aims to amplify the impact of CSO and NGO cooperation through mental health service provision.