Beirut Blast: Lebanese expats still grappling with survivor’s guilt one year on

Published on August 4 2021

Lebanon has now marked one year since the port explosion, the country’s worst-ever peacetime disaster. The blast, which left 214 people dead, was equivalent to a 3.3 to 4.5 magnitude earthquake.

While the explosion wreaked havoc on Beirut and pushed the country further into economic crisis, it also left a permanent mark on the psyche of Lebanon’s residents and overseas nationals, leaving many in a state of shock and guilt.

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Survivor’s guilt, also known as survivor’s syndrome, is a mental condition that occurs when someone survives a traumatic, life-threatening experience while others did not, and is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Often, those suffering from the affliction can be left with feelings of extreme guilt, and questioning why they survived while others did not, causing ongoing emotional and mental stress.

The emotional damage caused by the blast has yet to heal, with many members of Lebanon’s large diaspora expressing feelings of guilt for not being in-country to help their relatives and the people of Beirut during the time of the explosion.

Al Arabiya English spoke with Dr. Shaju George, specialist psychiatrist at Dubai’s Medeor Hospital, to weigh in on the concept of ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ and how Lebanese expats might be grappling with it.

Survivor guilt, as the name suggests, is the guilt of people who survived a traumatic incident or survived when they lost their significant one. So generally, this is something we discuss in the context of grief, and it is one of the major reasons for developing complicated grief,” explains Dr. George.

Survivors feel that they could have avoided the calamity or catastrophe by their timely intervention – these thoughts are usually illogical or irrational.”

He added that people facing survivor guilt often feel that they “haven’t done what they could to avoid the catastrophe,” or “that their act resulted in the catastrophe,” explaining that generally the syndrome occurs when involving close family members and sometimes close friends.

“Generally, these kinds of situations we see in unanticipated deaths or catastrophes where either the survivor witnessed or couldn't be there due to some reasons,” George said.

“Lebanese people who weren't there during the blast can have survivor’s guilt, and they may think that they should have been there in the place of their affected family members.”