The extent of the mental health crisis blighting the lives of Palestinians was revealed in a study by the World Bank on Friday. As many as 71 per cent of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip and 58 per cent in the Israeli-occupied West Bank display symptoms of depression, the study found. A smaller number are showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a mental health problem that may develop after experiencing traumatic events. The condition was first recognised in war veterans. It has had different names in the past, such as “shell shock”, but it’s not only diagnosed in soldiers. A wide range of traumatic experiences can cause PTSD.
The World Bank attributed the mental health crisis amongst Palestinians in part to economic distress and lack of employment prospects. The survey is billed as a pioneering effort to determine the cumulative effects on mental health of exposure to conflict and poor living conditions, including movement restrictions.
With both the occupied West Bank and Gaza placed under a brutal military occupation by Israel, some five million Palestinians are exposed to many of the pressures and stresses that are known to be the cause of PTSD.
The study attributes the conditions to “overlapping vulnerabilities and cumulative traumas on the Palestinian population,” due to “decades of exposure to conflict, restrictions on movements, and poor living conditions,” particularly for Palestinians in Gaza. The besieged enclave has been subjected to an Israeli-led blockade since 2006. The siege, which is entering its 18th year, has devasted the lives of over two million Palestinians. Most are victims of the ethnic cleansing that was carried out during Israel’s foundation on their land back in 1948, either directly or as the descendants of the initial wave of refugees.
The Palestinian population in Gaza is more likely to be exposed to a traumatic event than their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank. According to the survey, 65 per cent of those in Gaza have been exposed to a traumatic event in the previous 12 months compared with 35 per cent of West Bank residents. The researchers concluded that Gaza Palestinians’ trauma is being expressed in widespread depression and anxiety rather than classic PTSD symptoms.
The exposure of trauma is reinforced by economic disempowerment, loss of sense of agency and high unemployment compounded by the lack of economic prospects, the study explained. The rate of unemployment in the West Bank has hovered around 25 per cent while in Gaza the figure is as high as 82 per cent.