The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported an increase in levels of mental disorders among the population of the Gaza Strip, particularly among children, many of whom were already in need of mental health services and psychosocial support.
For three violent days in early August, until a ceasefire was reached on August 7, the Israel Defense Forces launched some 147 airstrikes against targets in Gaza while Palestinian militants launched about 1 100 rockets and mortars on Israel.
Inform the security Council on August 8, Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reported that 46 Palestinians had been killed and 360 injured, and 70 Israelis injured.
A heavy toll for children
17 Palestinian children were among those killed in Gaza in August, and the conflict is taking a heavy toll on all young people living in the strip, Adele Khodr said, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement welcoming the ceasefire.
“For many children, this was their fifth conflict in the past 15 years. Many are already living with the long-term psychological effects of constant exposure to violence,” Ms Khodr noted.
After visiting a family in Gaza whose home was badly damaged during the conflict, Lynne Hastings, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said that “the humanitarian situation in Gaza is already deteriorating, and the latter escalation will only make matters worse. We stand ready to work with all parties to ensure that humanitarian needs are met.
Living “in a state of frustration and psychological deterioration”
Speaking at a workshop organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Dr Yousef Shahin, Head of the Disease Prevention and Control Program of UNRWA, said the agency’s mental health and psychological support programme, to treat more than 87,000 cases, is one of the largest such programs in the Gaza Strip.
“We are currently working through the case investigation process, and if it is found that psychological support is needed, a case is opened, followed up and treatment is provided. Common symptoms include depression and epilepsy, and there are other cases related to chronic physical illnesses, which are of psychological origin”.
65% live below the poverty line
For his part, Dr. Sami Owaida of the Gaza Mental Health Program attributed the psychological problems facing residents of the Gaza Strip to the Israeli occupation and blockade of the Strip, which has lasted for more than 15 years. “Over 65% of Gaza’s population lives below the poverty line and over 60% are unemployed.
Dr Owaida’s comments were echoed by Dr Ghada Al Jadba, head of UNRWA’s health programme, who said Gaza residents live “in a state of frustration and psychological deterioration due to the deterioration of economic, social and political conditions”.
“The conflict of May 2021 [in which much of Gaza City was destroyed, and hundreds were killed or injured]caused a psychological shock, in addition to facing power and water cuts, high rates of poverty and unemployment – all factors that led to the deterioration of the already degraded health and psychological situation of the inhabitants of Gaza”.
More than two million people live in the Gaza Strip: there is only one psychiatric hospital, with a capacity of fifty beds, to serve the five governorates of the Strip.