June 18, 2024

Vitavo Yage

Best Health Creates a Happy Life

Innocence is under Siege, with a psychological Toll on Gaza’s Children

6 min read

( Middle East Monitor ) – The ongoing conflict in occupied Palestine has had a major effect on the mental well-being of Palestinian children. The trauma of living in a war-ravaged region, enduring displacement and witnessing extreme violence can result in a variety of mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and behavioural issues. Furthermore, children who have endured these traumas may grapple with feelings of despair, fear and anger. Childhood innocence is under siege.

It is thus crucial for Palestinian children to obtain the necessary support and resources to assist them in managing the mental health consequences of the conflict. UNICEF has identified the Gaza Strip as the most perilous location for children globally. Women and children make up over 70 per cent of the casualties resulting from Israel’s offensive since 7 October. From birth, Palestinian children have been subjected to an Israeli siege and blockade, enduring conditions of poverty and violence.

The predicament of minors in the Gaza Strip was already critical prior to 7 October due to the siege imposed by Israel since 2006 and additional structural obstacles. The majority of children in the Gaza Strip have endured distressing circumstances since last October. These include bereavement, extensive devastation, forced displacement and a serious lack of food, water and medication. Inadequate playgrounds and secure spaces, as well as school closures, are additional contributors to children developing mental health and psychosocial problems.

The solitary psychiatric hospital in Gaza has been targeted by Israel, and the activities of the other six community mental health clinics that serve thousands of patients throughout the enclave have been interrupted as a result of air strikes. In an effort to detect children who are suffering from mass depression, mutism, bedwetting and suicidal thoughts, some medical professionals have attempted to maintain contact with youngsters via the use of WhatsApp.

The present conflict has had an influence on children’s mental health that cannot be compared to the condition that existed before the crisis. This is due to the fact that the level of intensity of the hostilities and the destruction of infrastructure has been unparalleled. To put this into perspective, prior to 7 October, the Gaza Strip was already experiencing a significant number of mental health concerns. Approximately 54 per cent of Palestinian boys and 46.5 per cent of Palestinian girls between the ages of 6 and 12 were found to have emotional and behavioural issues, according to a survey conducted in 2017.

In 2022, Save the Children revealed that 80 per cent of the youngsters who participated in the research had signs of mental distress.

Two-thirds of the children there were engaging in self-harming, and about half of them admitted to having considered ending their own lives. Before 7 October, the availability of mental health care in Gaza was restricted and often subject to social stigma. As a consequence, families and community members did not give priority to mental health and psychological support (MHPSS).

Dr. Mamoun Mobayed, a consultant psychiatrist, and director of treatment and rehabilitation at Qatar’s Behavioural Healthcare Centre, stated that children suffer from the enduring consequences of wartime conditions during their sleep. Nightmares are experienced frequently, and some individuals may suffer from nocturnal enuresis as a consequence of these nightmares. A year ago, Palestinian-American psychologist Dr Iman Farajallah found in her study on the impacts of war on Palestinian children that children who survive such wars often suffer serious psychological, emotional and behavioural repercussions. Ninety-five per cent of Gaza Strip children, according to her study, showed signs of trauma, sadness and worry. Farajallah believes that the solution to the Palestine issue is not to be found in psychology but rather in a peaceful political resolution.

France 24 English Video: “‘Gaza remains hell on earth for children and their families’, Unicef Spokesperson tells FRANCE24”

The ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine is having a severe impact on children’s mental and physical well-being, confirms UNICEF. UN officials report many children killed and countless more suffering from anxiety and displacement. “The violence is taking a huge toll on children’s mental health,” said Jonathan Crickx, UNICEF’s chief of communication in Palestine. “We’ve received accounts of children who are deeply worried and anxious.” The UNICEF official urged all parties to ensure that children receive the specific protection that international humanitarian and human rights law guarantees them and to provide them with unequivocal protection. Additionally, the UN body demands an urgent cessation of hostilities.

The conditions necessary to deliver humanitarian aid to children in Gaza are not only unfulfilled, but also deteriorating. The prolonged embargo and continuous shelling in Gaza have severely strained the mental health of children, pushing it to its limits. The victims have endured indescribable psychological trauma resulting from acts of violence, severe bodily suffering such as amputations, and the profound loss of their families, homes and educational institutions. More than one million children in Gaza require mental health assistance.

UNICEF reports that Israel has caused the deaths of more than 13,000 children in Gaza since 7 October. In addition, it should be noted that there are other children who are experiencing acute malnutrition and are so weak that they lack the energy to even produce tears. “Our children have experienced various wars,” explained one of the mothers in Gaza. “They were already struggling with resilience, and now coping has become extremely challenging. The children are frightened, angry and can’t stop crying. Many adults are reacting the same way. This is overwhelming for adults, let alone children.”

According to Save the Children in Gaza, if the war is not stopped, there will be additional long-lasting psychological damage to children, with diminishing chances for recovery. Amal, a mother of four children in Gaza between the ages of 7 and 14, said that, “Some of my kids can no longer focus on simple tasks. They forget what I’ve just told them and can’t recall recent events. I wouldn’t even say their mental health has declined, it has been destroyed.”

This is total psychological devastation. 

Children in Gaza are bearing the brunt of the war’s consequences at a disproportionate rate. Brain development may be altered irrevocably as a result of childhood traumas, although the repercussions might not become evident until much later in life. During childhood, the brain undergoes critical developmental periods. Anacker explained that too much stress from grief, anxiety, or a lack of social and emotional interaction during these times can alter brain function. “There’s no effective way to completely reverse the effects of childhood trauma in adulthood, that’s why it’s essential to protect children from stress during these critical stages of development.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has cautioned on numerous occasions that children are affected “disproportionately” by contemporary conflicts. Children residing in regions affected by brutal conflict endure profound psychological anguish.

According to Taha et al., the Education Above All Foundation (EAA), a non-profit organisation based in Qatar, is providing psychosocial assistance to a total of 35,000 children, 15,000 caregivers and 1,000 frontline workers in Gaza. In addition, Save the Children is supplying leisure packs and creating secure educational environments for children who have been relocated or are in precarious situations. Organisations such as UNICEF are creating areas where children may participate in physical activities, group games, sketching and communication with experts who provide care. These endeavours are essential in tackling the mental health emergency among youngsters in Gaza.

There are considerable obstacles in providing mental health services to children, owing to a myriad of circumstances. Insufficient understanding among healthcare practitioners, a scarcity of mental health experts and constraints on foreign aid imposed by Israel sometimes result in untreated mental health illnesses. What’s more, the distribution of resources to tackle pressing emergencies, such as the shortage of essential supplies, increases the intricacy of providing mental health interventions for children in Gaza. The declining healthcare infrastructure and lack of protected zones due to ongoing bombardment exacerbate the challenges of addressing the mental health crisis among young people in Gaza.

In conclusion, the relentless conflict in Gaza has subjected Palestinian children to profound and enduring psychological trauma.

These young lives are marred by experiences of violence, loss and deprivation, which have a severe impact on their mental health and overall development. It is imperative that international efforts are intensified to provide comprehensive mental health support and protection to these vulnerable children. Without a peaceful resolution and substantial humanitarian aid, the psychological scars inflicted by the conflict will likely persist into adulthood, perpetuating a cycle of suffering and instability. Ensuring the mental well-being of Palestinian children is not only a moral obligation, but also a crucial step towards building a future where peace and stability can prevail.



The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

Middle East Monitor


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