The Mental Health Impact of War and Terrorism: Israelis and Palestinians

Photo Credit AP

By Maya Robin

Until a recent ceasefire, the past few weeks consisted of a constant fear of rockets for the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel and Gaza. The 2021 rockets were not a first, and many similar instances have contributed to the mental health vulnerability of all members of Israeli society. A 2008 study compares the mental impact of terrorism in the region. “After 19 months of terrorist attacks, Arabs and Jewish Israelis reacted roughly similarly to the situation; however, after 44 months of terror, posttraumatic symptom disorder in the Arab population increased three-fold, posttraumatic symptomatology doubled and resiliency has almost disappeared” [Dr. Gelkopf, University of Haifa].

Warfare and terrorism have had a grave effect on all demographics throughout the region; however, children seem to show the most prominent displays of PTSD and mental health vulnerabilities. Children living in Gaza, under Hamas rule, exhibit high levels of abnormal behavior. Whether it be rockets or simply due to life under a terrorist regime, the prevalence of violence presents a commonness of mental health difficulties among the children of Gaza; they have issues with nail biting, bullying, and a common phobia of attending school [Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2001].

While PTSD among Palestinian children living in Gaza is more widespread, PTSD among Israeli children is often dependent upon their geographical location. A study conducted by Lavi & Solomon (Tel Aviv University) found that children living in the territories or areas bordering Gaza or the West Bank have a similar PTSD prevalence rate as the Palestinian children living in the war zones. However, Israeli children living in areas with less conflict display much lower rates of prevalence.

Furthermore, the heated political climate in the area also contributes to the degree of resilience and coping mechanisms of those exposed to violence. In Gaza, there is a less stable governing body and, therefore, a less centralized approach to ending this mental health epidemic. The resources for psychiatric care favor heavy drug treatments rather than therapy, leaving the remainder of the mental health strategies in the hands of community centers, donors, and non-profit organizations [Washington Post, 2018].

To the contrary, in this heated time, Israel has issued state-wide guidelines on how to calm down after a rocket siren in order to take preventative measures against PTSD. Many different factors likely contribute to the contrasting rates of mental health problems, whether it be a genetic predisposition, the government’s strategic approaches, geographical location, or cultural resilience. Regardless of the causes, the epidemic of helplessness, anxiety, and fear is an on-going issue. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a multi-faceted, intense matter; however, the mental health epidemic in the region is not a socio-political, religious, or geographical issue. In these times, it is imperative to look at both Israelis and Palestinians as people who are so traumatized that mental health challenges are common.

A Family Portrait or, What Being Queer Looks Like

by Callum Lee

Somewhere across time and space, there is a father telling his son that he was terrified for years before he came out. He has told him many things over the years, clichés like “it’s just a phase,” and “your life will be so much more difficult now.” The mother parrots phrases like these, but in a more Biblical context: “you know this goes against what God says,” and “this is a sin.” But the thing is, the son knows what sin feels like. He knows what it’s like to be 5 years old, stealing a chocolate bar for the first time and understanding the criminal weight behind it, the burden of guilt and pleasure and panic. Sin feels like cheating on a test or taking money from a purse. Sin looks like suicide, like homosexuals, like tattoos on your body or hate in your heart. At 12 years old, he realized that his options were an early grave caused by self-hatred, denial, and shame, or that he could love himself and live.

The father tells him that nobody is meant to be happy. Happiness is fleeting, joy is forever, and joy is only found in God. This is the argument he gives the son when he says that being who he was meant to be makes him happy. Going back into the closet would mean certain death, absolute misery, total despair, but the father argues that life is discontent anyway. Why not soldier on normally? Being queer is only a hinderance to life’s chances, anyway.

The parents’ worst fears look like this: the child turned away from every opportunity, beaten down by the world, unloved by all except for them. Or maybe, their worst fears look like this: the child’s happiness found in a lifestyle they never wanted/approved of. Because each day that unfolds looks more like the latter. The son has flourished away from home.

He’s found friends that love him for who he is (none of them are perfect: there’s always the ones that ask weird questions or still have the same idea of toxic masculinity in their heads, but they’re trying, he’s teaching them). He’s discovered the space he needs to accept and appreciate himself, learning about the little joys in life and how to stay steady despite hardships. He’s remained strong through difficulties, realized more about himself in the past few years than any other. He has started to repair the damage his parents have done to his identity and to his heart, and he doesn’t ever regret coming out. They say it’s harder this way, that they’ve always wanted better for him, but he can’t change how he was made, what he wants. There’s a happiness inside him. It’s warm and content, and it looks like self-acceptance.

How the COVID “Storm” Took India

by Callum Lee

            On February 1, 2021, COVID-19 cases in India were at an all-time low. At 8,635 cases, people presumed that the country was out of the red and would not experience a second wave like Brazil and the United Kingdom. However, the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus, the relaxing of restrictions, as well as lack of medical supplies and hospital space in India has led to a massive spike in COVID-19 cases. As of today, the country sits at 329,000 cases, with only 10% of the population having one vaccine dose and 2% being fully vaccinated. The country has been caught off-guard, overwhelming the health system and rendering the rollout of the vaccine to a mere trickle. People have taken to the black market to buy medical supplies such as oxygen tanks for their dying loved ones.

Because ventilators and oxygen are in short supply, patients are ferried from hospital to hospital by desperate relatives in order to find aid. In an interview with Channel 4 News, Dr. Sumit Ray explains that citizens are dying on the way to hospitals because of the lack of beds. He is exasperated by the shortage of supplies and space, helpless to the waves of patients that can only wait to die. At a hospital in Delhi, Manika Goel sits at her husband’s bedside, searching for a ventilator. She tells Channel 4 News that “it isn’t COVID that’s killing people. It is the unavailability of the treatment which is killing people.” The doctors tell her that her husband only has two days to live. Her story, while agonizing and unfortunate, is like so many others in India.

Devastation has overrun the country to the point that even crematoriums have become overpopulated. Car parks have been fitted as emergency funeral pyres in order to accommodate for the number of bodies that need to be cremated. Even in death, the families of the victims are pressed to find arrangements for funerals and ensure that their loved ones are put to rest properly. There is no peace for the people of India.

Other countries such as the UK and the USA are committed to aiding the country by sending health supplies, oxygen, masks, and medicine. U.S. President Joe Biden announced that by July 4, the U.S. will send 10% of its AstraZeneca vaccine to other countries, such as Canada, Mexico, and India. This past year has been an immense struggle for everyone worldwide, and as some countries are coming out from under the hold of COVID-19, some may forget that there are still people out there suffering. In these times, it is imperative to cherish our loved ones and what we have, but it is also our duty to exercise empathy and help others.

If you are interested in donating to help India, here is a link of places you can donate. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/how-to-help-india-during-its-covid-surge-12-places-you-can-donate 

City of Angeles / City of Mental Health

Our mental health can be in a good phrase if we are happy, but in a different context, it has an extremely negative connotation.  Let us strengthen the phrase and change the definition. What if we made Los Angeles the mental health capital of the world?

There is an insightful 2009 movie called the Soloist, starring Jamie Fox and Robert Downey, Jr., based on the lives of Nathaniel Ayers and Steve Lopez. Nathaniel is an extremely talented classical musician who suffers from schizophrenia. Steve Lopez who writes for the Los Angeles Times tells the story of how Nathaniel became homeless on the streets of Downtown LA. Years after watching the film while living downtown, I would still see Nathanial Ayers on the streets, playing his instrument. The Soloist is the story of many homeless. It could you be you or me, our children, or our neighbors; without the proper help and a support system, we are all vulnerable.  

One suggested solution to homelessness has been to construct more housing. It is not a bad solution. In fact, it is a thoughtful one and, in most instances, it should have worked.  We just cannot build enough, fast enough.  The County’s homeless numbers have increase 12.7% to 66,436 from the last count in June of 2020 according to the Los Angeles Homeless Authority.  This is even though the city has increased their budget to help the homeless. People from around the United States come to the city because of the weather and the services, and more are coming every year. in addition, people here end up on the street from mental instability, abuse, or bad luck. It is a radical idea, but we have spent millions of dollars on building new housing. What if we treat the cause and make Los Angeles a city of mental stability?

How do we do it? We increase our services, expand the program for trained social workers and healthcare providers to help more people on the streets, in schools, and in the community. We open more centers for those fighting abuse, and we create online and remote care facilities for others who are dealing with turmoil here and around the world.

It is expensive – yes. To increase these programs and create the infrastructure costs time and money. And so is building any type of real estate in California. The solution is not to stop building shelters or housing. Part of the way that we can solve this problem is to treat the underlying illness.  We can direct new funds for Los Angeles to create a better infrastructure for mental health, and we do it at the local, community, street, and school level to make this city a beacon for mental stability – and not homelessness.

Should Everyone Get Vaccinated

Work

We all know the story: Responsible Al who never misses a day comes into the office sneezing and coughing. We offer Al a cough drop and tissue paper, hold our noses and hope Al doesn’t make us sick. But he does. Later that night, we start to have the same cough and before you know it, we are debating if we are going to pull an Al and come to work the next day. Saturday is the day we must go and visit our mother-in-law in the nursing home….

School

We are always rushed in the morning, and our eight-year-old is complaining they are not feeling well. With the carpool, 9:00am meeting, and no one available for a last-minute baby-sitting favor, we are forced to send the child to school. Unknowing, in the carpool ride home, your child is with another youngster’s sibling who has an immune deficiency. With the windows rolled up and everyone singing the latest pop chorus jingle, soon everyone in the car has the infection.

Social

Another scenario: you are not feeling your greatest, but you promised a group of friends that this time you were not going to flake on drinks. You take a couple of Tylenols and an hour later, you are at the bar, hoping the gin and tonic will be an excuse for your red eyes. You are laughing and hugging, and by the end of the night, you feel one hundred but notice your friend now has that same sneeze you woke up with.

Sound familiar? Life happens all the time, but that does not make us bad parents, irresponsible co-workers, or a bad friend. What if this time, it is more than a cold? What if the bad cough, congestion, or fever are more than just a cold or the flu. What if in our post-2020 world, this is COVID or a new variant. Have we done the right thing by avoiding a vaccination? Yes, we are ok, but what about those around us who are not as lucky.

 In 2019, there were 22,000 reported deaths from the flu in the United States (CDC.GOV). In 2020, there were over 360,000 deaths due to COVID-19 the numbers tell the story of just how important this vaccination may be.  

by

Dane Flanigan

CEO ultraHealth Agency