When most people think of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they think of veterans of war. It's not surprising—between 11-30% of soldiers involved in the Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq, And Afghanistan Wars have PTSD. However, PTSD is also common among civilian populations. In fact, about 7-8% of the US civilian population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Abroad, that number will be higher, as war tears apart large areas, separates families, and exposes people to other traumatic events.

One such area is Israel and Palestine, where war erupts almost every decade. With so much conflict, it shouldn't be surprising that both populations experience trauma on a regular basis. In fact, 43.5% of preteens in Sderot, Israel demonstrate clinical signs of PTSD (Journal of Adolescent Health), while 64.11% of preteens and teens in Gaza have at least partial criterion for PTSD (Arab Journal of Psychiatry). So, just how affected is this region by the violence, and can they manage such large quantities of patients?

Palestine

A study on this subject was just published in the Arab Journal of Psychiatry. It examined adolescents from 10 schools in the Gaza Strip who had been witness to the 2008 Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of the 358 participants, 34.31% met the partial criterion for PTSD and 29.8% had the full criterion for PTSD. Only 11.8% of those interviewed reported no symptoms of PTSD.

With the widespread devastation in Palestine, it shouldn't come as a surprise. Often, large portions of towns and cities are destroyed, making it nearly impossible to resume day to day activities when the fighting has ceased. Because destruction is all around them, many may feel trapped by the devastation, unable to move forward with their lives.

A lot of people with a mental illness cannot afford to see a therapist about their problem either. With 21.3% in the West Bank and 37.6% in Gaza living in poverty (Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics), seeking help is nearly impossible. The number of impoverished people and number of people with PTSD will only go up with the current war. This will make it extremely difficult for people in Palestine to completely recover from the trauma for years to come.

Israel

On the other side of the border, life isn't much different in the mental health sense. Since all Israeli citizens are required to fight in the military, the risk of PTSD is higher than it is in countries like the US. Though Israel has a good system of treating PTSD and other mental health concerns, the constant state of war that the country is in makes it nearly impossible to prevent PTSD from happening.

“Everyone [is affected by PTSD.] From babies to seniors. All across the county. With the highest numbers being in the south," said Nitzan Harel, a former Israeli soldier. Harel grew up in Israel, during the South Lebanon Conflict and both Intifadas. As a soldier, she served in the second Lebanon War. Because of her experiences, she has mild PTSD. “I get very rattled by the sound of firecrackers, fireworks and thunder," she said, “I have had several minor panic attacks when unexpected fireworks have gone off in my neighborhood and when a thunder storm rocked my house last winter."

Along the border towns, the rate of PTSD is higher than in north and central Israel. In Sderot, a town only two miles from the border of Gaza, the rate of PTSD in preteens is five times higher than the average civilian rate of PTSD in the US. The constant threat of rockets and kidnapping raises anxiety levels in these individuals and imprints traumatic events into their memories.

War Harms All Involved

As the saying goes “all is fair in love and war," but does it justify the spikes in mental illness that follow acts of war? In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the countries are so close together that it is nearly impossible to harm one without also harming the other. Both Israel and Palestine are affected by the constant warfare, and both have the mental scars to show for it. For now, both sides must integrate PTSD treatment into the rebuilding process. That way, any problems can be addressed before a flare-up occurs.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: July 12, 2016

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