“Embrace LifeLine”: The first suicide prevention hotline in Lebanon and the MENA region

Hadi Afif
Editor-at-Large

Lebanese non-profit organization Embrace celebrated the launch of the first suicide prevention hotline in Lebanon and the MENA region on Tuesday, September 12, at the Phoenicia Hotel Ballroom.

Under the campaign name “Talking Saves Lives”, Embrace launched the “Embrace LifeLine”, the hotline, due to the growing importance of suicide and mental health in Lebanon.

Our commitment is to ensure we have a fully operational and round the clock helpline for those that need support in times of crisis. Maintaining the helpline is at the forefront of our efforts, and for this, continuous funding is required.

“We hope that those that have been impacted by suicide or have a loved one that is suffering will spread the word to ensure we create an impact in society and prevent suicide from happening,” said Dr. Ziad Nahas, co-founder of Embrace, professor, and former Chairperson of the Department of Psychiatry at AUBMC.

Friends of Embrace, (credits: Embrace).

Through this campaign, Embrace aims to start a conversation on suicide and mental health in the Lebanese society and to reduce the stigma that surrounds such issues. It aims to do so by providing support and assistance to those who suffer from them, which is one of the organization’s main goals since its founding in 2013, in the Department of Psychiatry of the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC).

The fundraising gala dinner, titled as “Embracing the Stars”, was hosted by Lebanese television personality and actor Wissam Breidy. The event featured a live musical performance from singer Manel El Mallat, who, alongside the team of the television show Dancing With The Stars, provided a night of fun, celebration, and reflection for the 250 attendees.

In its preparation for the launch, Embrace collaborated with the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Internal Security Forces. Embrace has also trained 17 helpline operators, providing them with intensive practice in suicide risk assessment and crisis management and intervention.

The organization also launched a website, www.embracelifeline.org, where people can join the conversation and record messages of support for individuals who are struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts.

Statistics show that one person dies from suicide every 2.5 days in Lebanon and that every 6 hours one person attempts suicide. These numbers, although relatively lower than most, are not representative of actual suicide rates in Lebanon as the religious, legal, and social issues surrounding it often lead to the claim that such cases are accidental, natural, or undetermined in local news.  

Dr. Ziad Nahas, (credits: Embrace).

The hotline functions as a specialized telephone service that is operated by professionally-trained phone operators who provide suicide risk assessment and emotional support to callers. Hotline operators also provide referrals for available intervention and treatment programs.

Now in its pilot phase, the hotline operates for 10 hours, from 12:00 pm till 10:00 pm. The hotline will fully launch in mid-October after which it will operate for 14 hours, from 12:00 pm till 2:00 am.

When asked about Embrace’s future plans, Pia Zeinoun, Ph.D., Executive Member and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the American University of Beirut (AUB), said, “In the first year, our primary aim is to move from a 14 hour helpline to a 24 hour helpline, bringing on more highly trained operators to take calls and support the community. We will also continue with our fundraising efforts via events and with our municipal and village outreach programs to ensure the proper awareness on suicide and mental illness is spread.”

Through its endless efforts, Embrace has become a reference for mental illness and suicide prevention. With its growing popularity and reach, it hopes to achieve nationwide coverage and eliminate the notion of taboo which surrounds mental illness and suicide.

With its current momentum, Embrace promises to keep the conversation on mental health going.

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