Serious Upsurge Of Post-conflict Trauma in Gaza, Says UN

East Jerusalem – Jan. 22 2013 – The number of psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases in the Gaza Strip has increased by more than 100% following Israel’s latest war crimes on Gaza, said a report issued by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) published yesterday.

gaza3The incidence of psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Gaza Strip has risen by more than 100 per cent following the most recent conflict there, according to new figures from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The largest humanitarian organisation on the ground in Gaza, UNRWA said that the number of people in Gaza it was treating for psychological trauma or PTSD had doubled from November to December. Of those treated, 42 per cent are under the age of nine. These latest statistics, gathered from UNRWA health facilities in the coastal strip, support the findings of the most recent survey of Gazan children from the UN children’s agency UNOCEF, which found sharp rises in conflict-related psychological disturbances.

“These figures represent a significant rise in mental health problems,” said Akihiro Seita, Director of UNRWA’s health programme. “From my experience, I would say this is evidence of a psychological trauma and PTSD epidemic. “Remember that these stats do not reflect our anecdotal evidence, which suggests there are a huge number of unreported cases”, Seita added.

“On my first visit to Gaza after the war, I was overwhelmed by how much mothers and children suffered from the sheer scale and magnitude of the bombardments. All the mothers I met in UNRWA’s health centres said their children behaved differently during and after the war. Some don’t sleep well, some don’t eat well, and some don’t speak well.

It’s heart-breaking.”

Following the fighting last month, Unicef released the findings of a rapid psychosocial assessment of children in Gaza: it found a 91 per cent of increase in sleep disturbances among children, while 84 per cent of respondents were reported as looking “stunned or dazed”, and 85 per cent reported “appetite changes”.

In its latest report to the World Health Assembly published in May last year, UNRWA presented evidence of an increase in “stress-related disorders and mental health problems” among the Palestine refugees it serves. In response to these growing health needs, UNRWA has rolled out a new model of health care called Family Health, by which Palestine refugee families receive health care as a whole unit.

“UNRWA is stepping up its psychosocial counselling at schools and through home visits in response to this sharp rise in PTSD cases”, said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, while appealing for more funds to meet the growing demand for UNRWA’s mental health work.

“Our community mental health programme in Gaza costs some USD 3 million annually,” Gunness said.

“To meet the growing demand for mental health care, we desperately need more funds from our traditional donors and individuals.”

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