One year on from last summer’s Operation Protective Edge conflict in Gaza, a new study shows that 40% of children in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, near the border with Gaza, suffer from some form of fear, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The level of PTSD amongst youngsters in Israel is normally around 7-10%, even during wartime.
Professor Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, director of the child and adolescent clinical services unit at the Israel Centre for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, at the Herzog Memorial Hospital in Jerusalem, said that “the ongoing situation in Sderot causes PTSD at a rate three or four times greater than that of the rest of the country”.
Professor Ruth Pat-Horenczyk explained that PTSD is hard to identify: “Children don’t always say things verbally. They don’t always speak about their fears directly. They show it through behaviour and their developmental progress”.
The psychologist detailed how children can develop new fears, find it hard to sleep, and have more problems in school. She also said that young children may take on the behaviour of younger children by having accidents or speaking like a toddler, and teenagers can have altered characteristics and may become more aggressive.
The programmes Professor Pat-Horenczyk runs to counter PTSD also target adults, because “if the situation affects the parents and the mother is depressed or post-traumatic herself, this strongly affects the child”.
However, despite the high levels of anxiety, fear and PTSD among children in Sderot and the Gaza periphery, the Professor said most of the children and the parents deal with the situation with resilience: “resilience is the most common reaction. Even among those in the worst situations”.