The invisible scars of Gazans under siege

The invisible scars of Gazans under siege
3 min read
13 October, 2016
While the physical effects of war are well documented, Gaza's mental health programme has lifted the lid on the psychological toll of war, occupation and poverty.
Gazans living under Israeli occupation need psychological support [Getty]
After three wars, a decade-long blockade, and deteriorating standards of living, the invisible scars inflicted on Gazans under Israeli occupation have been laid bare.

Blockaded by Israel by land and sea on one side and the Egyptian regime on the other, the coastal Palestinian enclave has often been described as the world's largest open-air prison.

On Wednesday, its population reached two million, making it one of the most densely populated states in the world.

The territory is estimated to be "unliveable" by 2020, the UN said last year.

As well as the overcrowding and harrowing conflicts, Palestinians face the daily frustrations of restrictions on movement, homes being demolished, abject poverty, violent clashes and extra-judicial killings.

While the physical toll of living under Israel's tightening siege has been well documented, the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme has drawn attention to the impacts on Gazans' mental health.

To mark Mental Health Day earlier this week, with the theme of "Psychological First Aid", the organisation has lifted the lid on the occupation's effect on psychological wellbeing.
The Israeli occupation continues its practices, violations, and tightening the siege on Gaza. All such measures increase the rate of poverty and unemployment and restrict the freedom of movement that lead to several forms of psychological distress, family problems, and community violence
"The goal of this theme is to draw attention on the need to help victims who experience crises and to provide them with support in the proper time and manner," the organisation said.

"This occasion comes while Palestine in general and Gaza Strip in particular suffer from continuous deterioration of the political and humanitarian situation.

"The Israeli occupation continues its practices, violations, and tightening the siege on Gaza. All such measures increase the rate of poverty and unemployment and restrict the freedom of movement that lead to several forms of psychological distress, family problems, and community violence.

"These difficult circumstances affect the vulnerable groups especially women, children, and victims who bereaved their loved ones or their homes."

The last Gaza War in 2014 had severe psychological impacts on the Palestinian residents, GCMHP said.

Based on the group's experience, clinical observations and research results, it found that 30 percent of residents suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and 10 percent still need advanced psychological interventions today.

During the nine months after the war, mobile teams were formed, which conducted 4,300 home visits to the Strip's affected areas, giving priority to the bereaved families, those injured and to those whose houses were destroyed either totally or partially.

During these community visits, services were provided to 22,000 beneficiaries, GCMHP said.
Sound mental health can't be achieved without living in dignity and respect for human rights, including the right of freedom, ending the occupation, dignified living, and the right to receive all possible psychological support timely in the adequate manner
More than 1,400 cases were also referred to receive specialised mental health treatment in GCMHP's community centres – almost half, 46 percent, of the cases were children.

GCMHP accompanies its work with "psychological first aid" training and community outreach programmes to maintain a "state of readiness" for any future crises.

As the report highlights the impact of the imposed siege on mental health of Gaza residents, it also calls on the international community to take responsibility, and ensure adequate psycho-social services are provided to residents, both during and after war.

It added that for the psychological wellbeing of residents to be protected, Israel's seige must be lifted.

"Sound mental health can't be achieved without living in dignity and respect for human rights, including the right of freedom, ending the occupation, dignified living, and the right to receive all possible psychological support timely in the adequate manner," it said.