There are no published data on national lifetime prevalence and treatment of mental disorders in the Arab region. Furthermore, the effect of war on first onset of disorders has not been addressed previously on a national level, especially in the Arab region. Thus, the current study aims at investigating the lifetime prevalence, treatment, age of onset of mental disorders, and their relationship to war in Lebanon.
Methods and Findings
The Lebanese Evaluation of the Burden of Ailments and Needs Of the Nation study was carried out on a nationally representative sample of the Lebanese population (n = 2,857 adults). Respondents were interviewed using the fully structured WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview 3.0. Lifetime prevalence of any Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) disorder was 25.8%. Anxiety (16.7%) and mood (12.6%) were more common than impulse control (4.4%) and substance (2.2%) disorders. Only a minority of people with any mental disorder ever received professional treatment, with substantial delays (6 to 28 y) between the onset of disorders and onset of treatment. War exposure increased the risk of first onset of anxiety (odds ratio [OR] 5.92, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.5–14.1), mood (OR 3.32, 95% CI 2.0–5.6), and impulse control disorders (OR 12.72, 95% CI 4.5–35.7).
About one-fourth of the sample (25.8%) met criteria for at least one of the DSM-IV disorders at some point in their lives. There is a substantial unmet need for early identification and treatment. Exposure to war events increases the odds of first onset of mental disorders.
In a survey of 2,857 adults in Lebanon, Elie Karam and colleagues found a lifetime prevalence of any DSM-IV psychiatric disorder of 25.8%.
Mental illnesses—persistent problems with thinking, with feelings, with behavior, and with coping with life—are very common. In the UK about a quarter, and in the US, almost half, of people have a mental illness at some time during their life. Depression, for example, persistently lowers a person's mood and can make them feel hopeless and unmotivated. Anxiety—constant, unrealistic worries about daily life—can cause sleep problems and physical symptoms such as stomach pains. People with impulse-control disorders, have problems with controlling their temper or their impulses which may sometimes lead to hurting themselves or other people. These and other mental illnesses seriously affect the work, relationships, and quality of life of the ill person and of their family. However, most people with mental illnesses can lead fulfilling and productive lives with the help of appropriate medical and nonmedical therapies.
Why Was This Study Done?
Recent epidemiological surveys (studies that investigate the factors that affect the health of populations) have provided important information about the burden of mental disorders in some industrialized countries. However, little is known about the global prevalence of mental disorders (the proportion of people in a population with each disorder at one time) or about how events such as wars affect mental health. This information is needed so that individual countries can provide effective mental-health services for their populations. To provide this information, the World Mental Health (WMH) Survey Initiative is undertaking large-scale psychiatric epidemiological surveys in more than 29 countries. As part of this Initiative, researchers have examined the prevalence and treatment of mental disorders in Lebanon and have asked whether war in this country has affected the risk of becoming mentally ill.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers randomly selected a sample of nearly 3,000 adults living in Lebanon and interviewed them using an Arabic version of the World Health Organization's “Composite International Diagnostic Interview” (CIDI 3.0). This interview tool generates diagnoses of mental disorders in the form of “DSM-IV codes,” the American Psychiatric Association's standard codes for specific mental disorders. The researchers also asked the study participants about their experience of war-related traumatic events such as being a civilian in a war zone or being threatened by a weapon. The researchers found that one in four Lebanese had had one or more DSM-IV disorder at some time during their life. Major depression was the single most common disorder. The researchers also calculated that by the age of 75 years, about one-third of the Lebanese would probably have had one or more DSM-IV disorder. Only half of the Lebanese with a mood disorder ever received professional help; treatment rates for other mental disorders were even lower. The average delay in treatment ranged from 6 years for mood disorders to 28 years for anxiety disorders. Finally, exposure to war-related events increased the risk of developing an anxiety, mood, or impulse-control disorder by about 6-fold, 3-fold, and 13-fold, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the prevalence of mental illness in Lebanon is similar to that in the UK and the US, the first time that this information has been available for an Arabic-speaking country. Indeed, the burden of mental illness in Lebanon may actually be higher than these findings suggest, because the taboos associated with mental illness may have stopped some study participants from reporting their problems. The findings also show that in Lebanon exposure to war-related events greatly increases the risk of developing for the first time several mental disorders. Further studies are needed to discover whether this finding is generalizable to other countries. Finally, these findings indicate that many people in Lebanon who develop a mental illness never receive appropriate treatment. There is no shortage of health-care professionals in Lebanon, so the researchers suggest that the best way to improve the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in this country might be to increase the awareness of these conditions and to reduce the taboos associated with mental illness, both among the general population and among health-care professionals.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050061.
Read a related PLoS Medicine Perspective article
IDRAAC has a database that provides access to all published research articles related to mental health in the Arab World
The UK charity Mind provides information on understanding mental illness
The US National Institute of Mental Health provides information on understanding, treating, and preventing mental disorders (mainly in English but some information in Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides a list of useful links to information about mental health
Wikipedia has a page on DSM-IV codes (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The World Mental Health Survey Initiative and the Lebanese WHM study are described on the organizations' Web pages