No person should ever suffer constant distress.

yet research on the mental health and wellbeing of children living in the Gaza Strip, part of the occupied Palestinian territory, indicate consistently high levels of it.

STATUS OF MENTAL HEALTH FOR CHILDREN IN GAZA

Children and adults alike continue to experience high levels of stress and distress as result of a decade of recurrent Israeli military assaults, deepening poverty, increased gender-based violence, isolation, and movement restrictions because of the illegal blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

The stress of these issues has produced: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, intense fear, bed-wetting, poor concentration, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, irritability, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It is expected that these high levels of stress and distress will continue, as individual and family coping strategies are further eroded by chronic stressors and poor living conditions.

Basic psychosocial and mental health support is not only critical in supporting the most vulnerable children and adults, but remains essential in developing and implementing community-based interventions that can strengthen families.

WHAT UNRWA IS DOING

The UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) was established in 2002 to assist Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip who had lost their ability to cope with the deteriorating conditions. With a particular focus on children and youth, CMHP helps to mitigate the psychological impact.

Today, CMHP maintains a network of 287 counselors and 82 psychosocial facilitators in UNRWA’s 267 schools, in addition to 21 counselors and five legal advisors in UNRWA’s Health Centres.

Since CMHP's establishment, UNRWA has seen greater academic focus and confidence in the children who have received support. UNRWA works to make sure the kids served receive the respect, dignity, and support they need to become positive, contributing members of society.

Beyond counseling, kids are taught lessons oriented to improving self-awareness, stress management, peer relations, self-esteem, coping, and problem-solving. The life skills program is being complemented by structured parenting groups with the intention of reinforcing positive parenting and family coping resources. Examples of such programs include: positive discipline, understanding the needs of children, how to support children during crisis, as well as self-care for parents.

WHAT YOU CAN DO + WHAT THE GAZA 5K IS FUNDING

When you fundraise for the Gaza 5K, you’re providing funding for CMHP.

Counselors play a critical role is supporting young Palestine refugee students as well as teachers and other education staff. Counselors provide a combination of individual counseling, group counseling, structured psychosocial activities, as well as life skills.

With the Gaza 5K funds, we aim to strengthen UNRWA’s services to both children and adults and ensure everyone has access to a counselor or some form of psychosocial support. 

Amani Bassam el Kelani (24), and her son Mohammed el Kelani (3) talk to their counselor about their trauma after the November 2012 Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip.

MENTAL HEALTH FACTS & FIGURES

  • Every child above the age of 10 in Gaza has witnessed death, destruction, and displacement as a result of three traumatic military offensives.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the 2014 assault, it was estimated that upwards of 373,000 children required direct and specialized psychosocial support.
  • While many reactions related to exposure to traumatic events dissipate with time, 20 to 30% of children can be expected to continue to experience significant difficulties.
    • Other research has shown rates of significant distress as high as 40 to 50%.
  • The above figures do not include children experiencing less serious difficulties such as trouble sleeping, physical complaints, poor concentration at school, low achievement, disruptive behavior, and/or aggressive or risk-taking behaviors.

A recent survey conducted by UNRWA found that:

  • 55% of sampled patients attending UNRWA health centers demonstrated poor psychosocial well-being, with 70% being identified as potentially depressed.

  • In schools, 15% of Grade 9 students were assessed as having difficulties in coping, with their studies or in their relationships with peers. This rose to 36% among Grade 3 students.

Feelings of desperation, hopelessness, and lack of perspective have also led to a rise in suicides by young adults in Gaza, as reported by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.