Approximately half of children in Lebanon's capital, Beirut have started showing signs of trauma and extreme stress since a massive explosion rocked the city on 4 August, a report by UNICEF says.
"Between 10 and 17 August, half of respondents reported that children in their households were showing changes in behaviour or signs of trauma or extreme stress following the explosions," the report reads.
The most common symptoms, UNICEF said, were severe anxiety; quietness or withdrawing from parents and families; nightmares and trouble sleeping; as well as aggressive behaviour.
However, it is not just children who have started showing signs of trauma in the wake of the explosion which, caused when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut's port ignited, has claimed the lives of nearly 200 people and injured thousands more.
A third of households surveyed by UNICEF (comprising 940 families in the Karantina, Geitawi and Basta neighbourhoods of Beirut) reported adults were also displaying similar symptoms of stress and trauma. While, a report by Reuters yesterday said adult interviewees were jumpy and startled at even the slightest sound.
Now, psychologists and mental health professionals are warning of a crisis if victims do not receive the necessary support.
"Mental health support is a vital part of the medical response," according to Marco Baldan, a surgeon with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
"On top of the horrific physical injuries that are being treated in hospitals, people risk developing huge, hidden scars unless they are supported through the psychological consequences of this catastrophe," Baldan added.
Even before the 4 August explosion, however, concerns over mental health in Lebanon were rising as a severe economic crisis, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, took hold.
Suicides rates have doubled this year from an average of 200 each month to nearly 500 with several victims blaming financial difficulties and hunger.
"I'm not an infidel… but hunger is an infidel," read the suicide note of one young Lebanese man who took his own life in Beirut last month.
The ICRC and UNICEF have now called for greater efforts to support Beirut's residents psychologically in the aftermath of the explosion.
"We want to make it as easy as possible for everybody to take the first steps towards support… and our services in Beirut and Tripoli are free of charge," Isabel Rivera Marmolejo, the mental health delegate for the ICRC in Lebanon, was quoted by the organisation's news room as saying. "People do not have to do this alone," Marmolejo added.