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New Study: Expatriates Experience Anxiety, Helplessness, When Traumatic Events Occur in Their Home Country 

  • May 21, 2022

New Orleans, La., May 21, 2022 — A new study presented today at the American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting found that traumatic incidents in their home countries can harm the mental health of expatriates months after the traumatic incident, regardless of how long they have been away from their country, and even if they did not witness the traumatic incident firsthand. The mental health impact was larger among female and younger expatriates.

The researchers, through a survey, examined the experiences of Lebanese expatriates following the devastating explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020. The explosion, resulting from a large quantity of stored ammonium nitrate, killed or injured hundreds of Lebanese and left thousands homeless or jobless.

The study began in March of 2021 and was open to participants for 7 months. Study participants included adults currently residing outside of Lebanon who are Lebanese citizens or first-generation of Lebanese descent. The Lebanese diaspora is estimated to include as many as 14 million citizens worldwide.

The survey was shared via email and on social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. More than 1,000 individuals participated in the study. Most were born in Lebanon and the mean age was 31. The majority of participants were from Europe and North America and the most common countries of residence were France, United States, Canada and UAE.

Most respondents reported close friends and family had experienced physical impact and losses from the explosion, and a majority reported feelings of helplessness and anxiety. Just over 40% of the participants screened higher than the threshold for anxiety and depression.

After completing an initial survey, participants who met the exposure criteria for PTSD (had first-hand witnessed the blast, were physically affected, or had close family or loved ones who suffered physical damage from the explosion) were asked to complete a PTSD screen. More than half (58%) of those completing the screening scored higher than the threshold indicating a possible PTSD diagnosis.

The explosion in Beirut “significantly affected the lives and mental health of Lebanese expatriates, leading in particular to feelings of anxiety and helplessness,” the authors conclude. “It also brings to light the importance of taking into consideration the mental health of expatriates when adverse events occur in their home countries.”

The research was presented at the APA Annual Meeting in New Orleans and the study authors include Gaëlle Rached, M.D., Msc., Muriel Slim, Dimitri Fiani, M.D., Margarita Abi Zeid Daou, M.D., and Souraya Torbey, M.D.

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit www.psychiatry.org.

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