Trauma skyrockets for Gaza’s children

Palestinians evacuate victims following an Israeli airstrike on buildings in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on 17 October 2023. (Firas El-Shaer / APA Images) 

Mustafa Abu Zir is fearful for the future of Palestinians’ mental health in Gaza.

The psychotherapist, who is from Gaza but is now based in the Netherlands, said that Israel’s nonstop wars on Gaza will only deepen the current mental health disaster.

“We will surely see PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], panic, fatigue, anxiety, depression and nervousness,” he said. “Children, who should have an enjoyable childhood, will now be unable to live a normal life.”

Even before Israel’s latest war on Gaza, the statistics on mental health in Gaza were alarming.

An April 2023 study published in the Palestinian Medical and Pharmaceutical Journal found that “Palestinians are much more likely to suffer from PTSD and depression than the global average and their neighboring countries.”

Furthermore, nearly 33 percent of children in Gaza are believed to have “severe PTSD,” though the global average is 5 percent.

“Nightmares and horrors are chasing [children] all the time,” Abu Zir said, “and they are trapped in this dangerous zone.”

Depression is estimated to affect 40 percent of adults in Gaza, according to the same study.

Yet other sources put the figure higher. A 2022 study from the World Bank and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics stated that as many as 71 percent of Palestinians in Gaza screened positive for depression.

Urgent mental first aid

With Israel’s destruction of hospitals and medical facilities throughout Gaza, the options for mental health treatment in Gaza – which were scarce before October 2023 – will be nearly nonexistent.

“When this war ends, people will go to public hospitals that have no specialized places for mental treatment,” Abu Zir said.

“This temporary solution will only burden the hospital with extra cases. We must call for urgent mental first aid and help from all adjacent and outside countries to avoid any potential disasters.”

Poverty, displacement and the daily witnessing of abject horrors will only compound the traumas faced by Palestinians in Gaza.

Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people has been forcibly displaced by Israeli airstrikes, and many of them will not have homes to return to.

Raising children amid the chaos

Kamila Abu Jaghim’s daughter Tasnim, 16, has Down’s syndrome.

“We have dozens of people in the house, and it is too small to accommodate this many,” she said. “Tasnim is always frightened, and we cannot tell her that these panicky sounds are rockets. This will cause her mental destruction.”

The family lives in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

Raising a child who is not neurotypical is even more difficult without a set routine and access to resources.

“Since the war, I try to keep her calm as much as possible.”

Tasnim has headaches and “cannot sleep during the night. I do not know when this may end, but if it continues, I may lose her.”

Hussein al-Ramlawi is father to Yousef, 11, who has ADHD.

They were displaced from their home and now live in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, at a relative’s house.

“He is now acting more uncontrollably,” Hussein said. Whenever Yousef hears a missile, he loses his mind.

“I do really need to take him to a doctor since his situation scares me more and more.”

Abubaker Abed is a journalist and translator from Deir al-Balah refugee camp in Gaza.