Mental Health in Gaza
Mental Health in Gaza
Trauma of war|Emotional struggle|Learning to cope
Ala’a and her family live in a small village called Meraj, in Gaza very close to the Israeli border. In July 2014 Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 2,100 people.
This is Ala'as story:
“As soon as the war started the situation became very bad in our area. I was hiding in a small room with my children and the only thing we could do was listen to the bombs and shells falling around us."
Distress and fear
"My five children were hysterical, but there was nothing I could do for them. I wanted to leave, but I had no idea where we could go as we have no family in the centre of Gaza.
Later, we heard that 11 of my relatives had been killed in an airstrike. Nobody, and nowhere, was safe: together, my husband and I decided we had to leave our home to search for safety, and we did not return until the fighting had ended.
We left during the night which was terrifying because you hear the drones and planes, but you don’t know if they see you as their next target.
The school where we found shelter was crowded with thousands of people and you could always hear people cry or scream, which was tough on me. We stayed there for the remainder of the war until we finally could go back to our house. We were lucky as our house only had minor damage, but many of our neighbours had lost everything.
It was when the war was over that I felt something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what. I no longer wanted to see or deal with my children. As they became afraid of the darkness, the nights were the worse. They kept crying and calling for their mother, but I could not deal with their distress so I kept yelling at them to be quiet.
My husband tried to help me as much as possible, but he works long days and because I no longer took care of my children he had to do that as well.
I think the worst feeling was that I realised something was wrong and I had no idea if this would ever go away.
I felt lost. I blamed myself for being a bad mother and wife, but I didn’t know how to change back to my normal self.
Soon after International Medical Corps came to the kindergarten where I work, to ask if they could use our facilities as a base from which to support children traumatised by war. They also wanted us to help identifying volunteers to work with them.
My husband said I should put myself forward as a volunteer. But I could not even take care of my own children, how could I support others? Later, I learned that other volunteers had struggled with the same question.
In our training, I vividly remember hearing that I was not strange or crazy. I had not become a bad parent. This was a normal reaction to the stress I suffered during the war. The trainer taught us some relaxation exercises – and that night I slept soundly for the first time in years.
Each activity we learned about, designed to help and support the children from our community, we participated in ourselves during training. So we could experience for ourselves how it could help mend the emotional and psychological damage of living through war. For me, drawing was an amazing release. All those feelings I couldn’t express in words, I could somehow draw. It was as if everything I had struggled with, I could at last let go of.
Rebuilding a sense of peace
Every day after training I would return home and start to rebuild my relationship with my own children, putting in place the skills I had learnt. We would play or draw together, and their happiness nurtured me. I had not been able to be there for them, but at last, slowly, I was coming back. Now, we could talk about our fears, even the loved ones who had been lost. And at night before bedtime we do the relaxation techniques together, and we sleep peacefully. I can’t say we are completely back to our old selves - I still have problems and so do my children. I know it will take time to forget all the horrible things we have been through.