14 August 2012

Libya is facing a mental health crisis with experts warning of a lack of qualified health professionals to deal with the problem.

In the first-ever study of the effect of Libya’s conflict on the mental health of its populations, researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) have estimated the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression in Libya since the country’s 2011 civil conflict.

Researchers found that, while the physical casualties of the violence have been well documented, more consideration needs to be given to the mental health of the Libyan people in the aftermath of the conflict.

Led by Fiona Charlson of UQ’s School of Population Health, researchers used existing data on post-conflict settings to estimate the prevalence of mental disorders in parts of Libya particularly affected by last year’s conflict, including Misrata, Benghazi, Tripoli and Zintan.

They estimated that about 40 per cent of the most conflict-affected populations could be suffering from PTSD, with 30 per cent of these cases considered to be severe.

More than a third could have depression, with around half of these experiencing the most severe form of the illness.

Researchers found a high degree of co-morbidity between the two disorders with half of those experiencing PTSD estimated to be also suffering from depression.

Ms Charlson said that these current levels of substantial mental health burden are unlikely to be adequately addressed by Libyan’s health system, already under strain since the conflict.

“Our estimates show that more than 120,000 Libyans are predicted to have the most severe form of PTSD while more than 220,000 are predicted to have severe depression,” she said.

“This is a huge burden on the Libyan health service and, not surprisingly, the country’s capacity to meet its mental health needs fall exceedingly short of what is likely to be required.”

Using guidelines set by the World Health Organisation, researchers said at least 150 qualified staff would be needed to respond to the crisis, about 60 more than the most recently estimated levels.

Researchers estimate that the prevalence of severe PTSD and depression will drop to 5 per cent and 9 per cent respectively within three years, provided hostilities do not resume.

The full paper was published in PLOS ONE and can be read here.

Media: Fiona Charlson, 0402556657, fiona_charlson@qcmhr.uq.edu.au

Vanessa Mannix Coppard, 042 420 7771, v.manixcoppard@uq.edu.au