Step by step: e-mental health in Lebanon moving forward

Ensuring access to mental health care

In mid-February we joined WHO for a three-day workshop in Beirut to follow up on the implementation of the e-mental health intervention we are supporting there.

The mental health departments of WHO HQ and the Lebanese Ministry of Health, representatives of the University of Zurich and International Medical Corps all gathered with us to review what had been done so far. We also designed the research phase of the project and identified the roles and responsibilities for the next steps.

The e-mental health platform follows a semi-interactive story which users click through. The generic version of the narrative was shared at the workshop. It was drafted by the University of Zurich and revised and contextualized accordingly. This was carried out in four primary health centers and one community center in different parts of Lebanon. Seven focus group discussions with eight key informants and three experts were carried out. The contextualization process pointed out some issues which needed work, such as the length of the story and the need to introduce more self-care activities.

We also spoke about the pilot study, whose objective is to check the feasibility and acceptability of a nationwide intervention. In order to successfully carry out a larger randomized control trial (RCT) the research methods are to be refined. This will ultimately produce a tool that effectively reduces the symptoms of depression and increases functioning. The intervention pilot is scheduled to start in October 2017 and will last six months.

On the second day we had the opportunity to visit one of the primary health centers where the project will be tested. The health center, run by the Makhzoumi Foundation, is very well structured and counts with a mental health unit. The health personnel there have been trained on mhGAP, patients are successfully referred to the closest psychiatric hospitals and internet connection is available and functioning. These three elements will ensure that the trial can run smoothly.

At the end of the workshop a stakeholder meeting was organized with the representatives of the health clinics where the application is to be tested to share what had been discussed. They welcomed and appreciated the intervention, and provided some valuable input. Some ideas regarding how to advertise the program came up, such as using TV adverts, which are a very effective channel in Lebanon.

Overall, it was an extremely productive workshop. We are proud to collaborate with WHO and with the mental health Lebanese team. Their dedication and attention to detail, along with their strong commitment to set up the best intervention for the communities pushes us to continue supporting them.