Save the Children: Gaza children on brink of mental health crisis

Research by the rights group found 95 percent of young people surveyed in Gaza showed deep psychological distress.

    A generation of children in the besieged Gaza Strip are on the brink of a mental health crisis, a children rights group said.

    "A whole generation of children in Gaza is balancing on a knife edge where one more shock could have devastating life-long consequences," Marcia Brophy, a senior health adviser at Save the Children, said in a statement on Sunday. 

    Save the Children, which surveyed 150 young adolescents, with a median age of 14, and 150 caregivers living in the coastal enclave, found that 95 percent of children interviewed displayed symptoms such as feelings of depression, hyperactivity, a preference for being alone, and aggression.

    Many children grew up witnessing three Israeli offensives - 2008 to 2009, 2012 and 2014 - that devastated the strip. Furthermore, the 11-year Egyptian-Israeli blockade has severely curtailed the quality of life in Gaza, where youth unemployment now is at 60 percent and poverty levels increased from 30 to 50 percent.

    At least 68 percent of children say they have difficulties sleeping, and 78 percent consider the single biggest source of fear for them was the sound of warplanes

    Yet the research also shows that these children revealed strands of resilience, with 80 percent saying they could openly talk about their problems to their families and friends, and 90 percent saying they felt supported by their parents.

    Brophy said that while most of the children tied their security to the presence of their families, the breakdown of that family security is "one of the key triggers for mental health issues among children in conflict".

    'Address the root cause: the blockade'

    Jennifer Moorehead, Save the Children's Country Director for the occupied Palestinian territory, told Al Jazeera that in light of the meagre resources that afflict the Gaza Strip, the world has a responsibility to relieve the suffering of the children there.

    "The international community have to get themselves involved [and] invest their resources and their time to address the root cause of this, which is the blockade," Moorehead said, adding that this reality is preventing any kind of developments from taking place, leaving children "trapped without the support services they need".

    "The international community needs to step up its assistance and introduce more mental health and psycho-social support into schools, extracurricular activities and homes," she said.

    "Only by doing this immediate step, as well as focusing on ending the blockade and finding a durable and just solution, will children have a more hopeful future."

    On Friday the United States vetoed a Kuwait-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the protection of Palestinian civilians. 

    At least 120 Palestinians, including 14 children, have been killed and more than 13,000 wounded by Israeli forces during weeks-long peaceful protests in the Gaza Strip near the fence with Israel. Save the Children's research took place prior to the protests. 

    'This fear grips me and a lot of children'

    One young adolescent interviewed in the report, who is only known as 15-year-old Samar, said that she always fears whether she will be the target of the next missile attack.

    "This fear grips me and a lot of children," Samar said. "Sometimes during the day, I would think about the nightmares I had the whole time."

    "The blockade, the air attacks, and the war all affect my dreams, ambitions and personality. I fear what the future holds."

    Samar, 15, was interviewed by Save the Children in the Gaza Strip and said that she fears what the future holds [Tim Muir/ Save the Children]

    This current situation, Moorehead said, where children have been caught in a cycle of deprivation, was not sustainable.

    "It's not an option that these kids are going to continue to grow up in this kind of environment," she added, describing the future as one of "no horizon and no opportunity".

    "Kids deserve better than what they are getting now."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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