October 19, 2010

On World Mental Health Day, MSF organized a theatrical performance in the Palestinian refugee camp of Burj el-Barajneh and an art exhibition in its Community Mental Health Center outside the camp.



Lebanon 2009 © Lara Arapguirlian/MSF

MSF staff talking to residents about mental health programs.

In Lebanon, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs a mental health project that targets the densely-packed Burj el-Barajneh neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The project primarily serves the Palestinian refugee community and the most vulnerable Lebanese living in the area by providing free-of-charge mental health care.

Earlier this month, on the occasion of World Mental Health Day, MSF organized a theatrical performance in the Palestinian refugee camp of Burj el-Barajneh and an art exhibition in its Community Mental Health Center outside the camp. The theatrical performance was designed to raise awareness about mental health issues within the community. It was “inspired by mental health disorders that are common inside and outside the refugee camp and based on the World Health Oganization’s definition of mental health that a healthy being comprises physical, mental and social health,” said Aliya Khalidi, who directed the production.

The exhibition and the play highlighted the fact that individuals suffering from mental health disorders are perfectly able to think and be creative about their illnesses. They came out of the art-based psychotherapy workshops MSF runs in its programs. Rita Chehwane, an MSF psychotherapist who conducts art psychotherapy sessions, says “these workshops offer therapy through art, whereby certain mechanisms and materials are used to allow beneficiaries to express their deepest, innermost suppressed feelings as a tool to identify, visualize and reflect them to the other by giving them shape and color that corresponds with the feeling they want to express.”

Throughout both days of the exhibition, beneficiaries visited MSF's Community Mental Health Center, at times with their families, and expressed their pride about the fact that MSF was exhibiting their works. MSF’s Head of Mission in Lebanon, Fabio Forgione, stated that “the reason behind the celebration of this event by MSF is to strengthen the image, visibility and acknowledgement of MSF as a health actor in Lebanon, especially in mental health, on both the Lebanese and Palestinian sides, in order to strengthen relationships within the community that we work with.” He added that the aim is to “materialize the concept of mental health, as it is normally abstract and surrounded by stigma and lack of understanding, through an art exhibition, which shows the expression of patients, through art, of the disorders they suffer, as well as a theater play, which discusses the perception of mental health in the community."

Since opening the project in January 2009, MSF has provided mental health care to 987 new patients and carried out 6,641 consultations.

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