Children in Gaza suffer psychological trauma one month after war

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The 11-day war against the Gaza Strip ended on May 21, but inflicted lasting psychological trauma and behavioral changes on children in Gaza, due to what they witnessed during the bombings, the destruction of high-rise towers and the murder of entire families.

About 65 children were killed and 540 were injured, and UNICEF said about 500,000 children may need psychological support. UNICEF said pre-war statistics indicated that one in three children in Gaza needed psychological and social support.

Umm Ahmed, 38, fled his home in the Shujaiya neighborhood a day after the war broke out with his five children – the oldest of whom is 12 and the youngest is 3. She took refuge with her relatives because she feared that her house would be bombed. and destroyed as in the 2014 war. “I was not afraid for myself, but I was afraid of losing my children, especially since my husband works for one of the military wings of the resistance and that we couldn’t see it during the war, ”she told Al-Monitor.

She said her children were frightened during the night by the intensity of the shelling. Her little daughter made up scary stories about planes bombing the house and killing her father, and she kept asking questions about him. Meanwhile, two of her children are now suffering from involuntary urination at night.

Umm Ahmed said she noticed an increase in violence in her children’s behavior and screaming attacks, and she requested remote psychological assistance through a doctor.

The mother of Dima Asaliya, 11, who was killed by Israeli warplanes on May 19 in the Jabalia refugee camp after her mother asked her to bring a small electric oven to bake homemade bread from her sister’s house (about 70 meters from theirs), told Al-Monitor: “She was afraid and wanted to run away from her home to UNRWA schools since the escalation started, but we said our house was safe and we didn’t need to go. I wish we were gone.

“Three hours before my daughter died, she asked me to go and I packed all her things: toys, schoolbag and water bottles. “If anything happens to me, I won’t forgive you.” I’m scared and I want to run away, ”she told me.

“A few minutes after she left the house to get the oven, I heard a loud bombardment that rocked the corners of the house, and I screamed. I quickly went out into the street to find her, “she added.

Israel targeted an empty piece of land separating Dima’s house from his sister’s. “I didn’t expect her to be the target. No one else was in the street.

She added: “She was killed immediately. I wanted to kiss her and say goodbye, but I was terrified of the horror of what had happened to her body.

She said she was contacting a psychiatrist and a women’s mental health association. She suffers from tremors and severe exhaustion because she blames herself and thinks she is the cause of her daughter’s death. The psychological activities she performs help relieve her trauma, she says, and she feels better when she talks about her daughter, whom she describes as an angel.

Subhi Farhat, psychosocial specialist in the General Mental Health Department of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, told Al-Monitor: “Psychological programs help children overcome the psychological trauma they suffered during the war.

He said they used many methods of treatment, including exposure, treatment through play and drawing, storytelling and psychodrama, noting that the last war was different because Israel was targeting residential communities and killed entire families.

Farhat said these scenes bequeathed hatred to children and intensified violence in their behavior, which means that the future of children in Gaza is threatened by unhealthy violent and aggressive behavior.

He said his department was facing difficulties with the psychological services they provide and the lack of psychological games and tests, as well as the lack of psychotherapy drugs. Since the fighting stopped, he said, they have been running two weekly workshops for mothers on how to care for their children after the war.

“We rely a lot on mothers to improve and correct the behavior of their children,” he said.

Farhat said he also held nearly 70 emotional liberation workshops for children in public parks in various parts of the Gaza Strip, taking into account preventive measures, as each workshop only accommodated 25 children.

Meanwhile, psychiatrist and lecturer at Al-Quds Open University, Youssef Awadallah, told Al-Monitor that the psychological impact of war remains etched in children’s minds and that it will have a lasting impact. profound impact on their soul for years to come. He said two out of three children in Gaza suffered psychological trauma during the recent escalation.

“Children who have lost family members or loved ones are more likely to develop PTSD,” he said.

Most of the psychological problems children suffer from as a result of war are nightmares, involuntary urination, hostility, poor school performance, change of appetite, and isolation.

“The psychological scars may not be visible, but they seriously affect human health,” he explained.

“Children are more affected by war because of their lack of life experience and their inability to interpret events as adults,” Awadallah said.

He said teachers will notice a decrease in academic performance, an increase in distraction and feelings of abandonment among students, as well as an increase in cases of violence and aggressive behavior – the age groups most affected are are between 6 and 12 years old.

Farhat said, “The idea of ​​going to see a psychiatrist in Palestinian society is still stigmatized, as many are reluctant to seek the help of a psychiatrist for fear that people will think they are crazy.

Awadallah offered his psychological services remotely during and now after the war to all Gazans, free of charge.

“I had around 80 psychological consultations every day,” he said.

Remote consultations are not as effective as in-person psychological sessions, he said, because the therapist cannot read the patient’s facial expressions and body language.

He called on parents to understand their children’s new behaviors, saying such behaviors are the result of severe psychological pressure.

Awadallah said that psychiatrists face difficulties due to the lack of professional staff, lack of financial capacity and lack of programs regarding the mental health of children and adults, especially as the treatment of such trauma requires long-term programs of five to eight years. .

“The war on Gaza never ends, so there is no guarantee that the child will not relapse after the treatment,” Awadallah said.

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