At least 1,000 children in Gaza border town undergo trauma treatment since summer’s war

SDEROT. While many in this Gaza border town suffer severe psychological trauma from prolonged exposure to thousands of rockets and mortars fired at them by Hamas and its allies in recent years, there is only one psychiatrist available to the 22,000 residents.

Archive Photo: Noam Bedein

Despite data indicating a rise in the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and requests for psychological help, such services are sparse: one psychiatrist passed away, and another has been ill for a long time, leaving frustrated patients with practically nowhere to turn.

Employees of the Center for Social Rights in Sderot recently sent a warning letter to the Health Ministry, citing a July 13, 2014 government decision to reinforce the staff at the Sderot Mental Health Center.

“Not only was the reinforcement not given, but the Sderot residents who need psychological support and individual therapy are left untreated. We were contacted by worried locals who sense severe neglect on the part of those responsible for mental health services,” they wrote.

Lawyer Eitan Michaeli, a volunteer at the city’s Center for Social Rights and Physicians for Human Rights, explains: “In Sderot, there are people with different levels of mental illness, like any other city. They are entitled to receive treatment. In addition, many are mentally ill due to the security situation over the past 14 years.”

Not only is the Sderot mental health clinic left with only one psychiatrist, the social worker has quit.

“We sent a letter to the Health Ministry and got a call on the same day… it was clear from the conversation that they hadn’t done anything regarding the issue until then,” Michaeli said. The effort partially paid off, however, when a new social worker began working part-time at the center.

The Health Ministry said in response: “The Health Ministry and the Barzilai Medical Center are making every effort to recruit mental health personnel for work in the periphery, including Sderot.”

“It takes between 1-2 years to heal such trauma”

According to Dr. Benny Fisher, head of the Education Ministry’s Administration for Rural Education and Youth Immigration, about 1,000 children are in therapy because of the summer fighting between Israel and Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge.

Talia Levanon, Director of the Israel Trauma Coalition, speaking at a conference this week on children’s welfare, expressed concern about the future of these children living under trauma. “What kind of adults will they become? They will suffer developmental delays, coping difficulties…these are just some of the reactions that can arise as a result of a situation of ongoing stress.”

Zamira Ben Yossef, the principal of a school in the western Negev region adjacent to Gaza, added that the educational teams were also in need of care. “A significant number of students and teachers have been in a state of post-traumatic stress for months, which is hurting both their personal well-being and their studies.”

Yael Adar, the Eshkol Regional Council Education Department Manager, said that the children living in the council “do not go outside to play, because they always have to be in a protected area. They don’t live a normal life.”

According to her, in a period of calm, it can take about one to two years to heal trauma. Considering that such conditions do not exist in the Gaza border communities, there are many cases of children and even teenagers who returned to sleep with their parents, and shower with the door open, despite a conflicting desire for privacy.

Yaron Kelner is a journalist at Ynetnews. This article is published courtesy of Ynet.


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