Mental health services as politics: exploring the experience of suffering among Syrian displaced in Lebanon

By Filippo Maria Marranconi
Submitted to Session P4750 (Psychiatry in the Middle East: Hospitals, Science and Care, 2017 Annual Meeting
Lebanon; Syria;
Lebanon is hosting one of the largest numbers of Syrians who flew the conflict. This context of acute crisis is a known risk factor for social distress and mental health problems but little research has been conducted on experiences of Syrian displaced, their strategies of coping, and their perceptions of the mental health services. Our main goal is to explore and analyze the gaps, regarding the implementation of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services (MHPSS) at three levels: The Syrian refugees’ own experience with the services, the stakeholders/service providers level, and the conceptualization of the services at the policy level. Through a multi-situated ethnography, we will investigate individuals’ lives of persons benefiting from MHPSS services.
In this context, psychiatric discourse on psychopathology formulates the relationship between the individual and the living condition marked by political instability. Psychiatrists, by taking a naturalized notion of the individual and of the illness as a main object of their knowledge, modify the individual’s experience of suffering and, as such, transform social relationships. Indeed, declaring someone as “having a mental illness”, may lead to forms of exclusion and subordination. Psychiatric discourse may also on the other hand represent a tool by which the individual redefines legitimately his social personhood against ascribed social statuses.

In light of the above, we may question how psychiatry – as a normalizing discipline – contributes to build knowledge on a vulnerable population, in this case, the Syrian displaced people. In a broader sense, what are the politics of otherness involved in the psychiatric discourse on Syrian displaced? How does it shape the experiences of suffering of the Syrians? How does it apprehend the collective history in which an individual’s experience of suffering is encrypted in and therefore which kind of politics of memory does it involve?