‘Abandoned’ youth in Israel’s shell shocked South need more mental health resources: activists

Latest round of terrorist rocket attacks highlights the strain of war on young residents of the Gaza border region, experts say, calling for greater mental health care services.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Activists and psychologists are urging the Israeli government to invest more resources in mental health services for kids and teens in the South, who are traumatized by living under the constant threat of rocket fire originating from the Gaza Strip.

Dr. Doron Heyman, an educational psychologist who serves clients in the communities bordering the Strip, which most often come under threat from terror groups in the coastal enclave, said that younger residents are in desperate need of additional support.

Heyman told Ynet that during Operation Shield and Arrow, the government opened a handful of temporary “resilience” centers providing basic mental health services, but described the practice as “a Band-Aid on a bleeding wound.”

Because the centers are now being shuttered due to the end of this round of fighting, youth in the area are once again left “abandoned” without a long-term solution to help them cope with the trauma of life in the region and the destruction caused by rockets from Gaza.

There are no permanent mental health clinics specializing in the treatment of children and teens in the Gaza border region, forcing parents to transport children to larger cities for treatment, which can be a significant distance away.

Read  Netanyahu shows Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' found in Gazan civilian's home

“There are children who are dealing with depression… but there are no long-term therapists in the area,” Heyman told Ynet. “Children and youth have to travel outside the area, and are subject to waiting lists [for mental health treatment] that sometimes reach over a year.”

Heyman added that “for parents of an 11 or 12-year-old child who needs treatment, it is very difficult to drive him once a week to Beersheba or Ashkelon. The private psychologists are also in high demand, and cannot receive all the referrals.

“It’s very unfortunate. Some people simply don’t get treatment because of it. And then the [mental] damage keeps building.”

Dr. Rotem Sternberg, a social worker and lecturer at the School of Social Work at Sapir College in Sderot, told Ynet that “the struggles of the residents of the South get worse with each escalation, and some people even remain [traumatized] for life.”

She added that “every week, it feels like we are getting a more and more [mentally distressed] population.”

Sternberg noted that simply adding more psychologists to the area isn’t the answer, and that a long term solution to the conflict with Gaza is critical.

“It doesn’t matter how much we increase the number of therapists, as long as the security situation remains the way it is,” she said.