The Trauma Experienced in Gaza Is Beyond PTSD

“We will die. All of us. Hopefully soon enough to stop the suffering that we are living through every single second.” Those words were sent in a text last week by a physician working for Doctors Without Borders in the southern Gaza Strip. And it is far from an uncommon feeling shared by those struggling to survive and care for one another in Gaza these days.

What would we call this feeling from the perspective of Western medicine? Suicidal ideation? Depression? Post-traumatic stress disorder? Whatever it is, we are taught that such thoughts are abnormal and require medical intervention.

When the bombing finally stops, the rebuilding of Gaza’s homes, schools, hospitals and essential infrastructure will begin — a process Gazans are extremely familiar with at this point. They will also begin processing trauma many people on Earth cannot understand: the prospect of starving to death; waking up at the hospital and finding out you are one of the last surviving members of your family; watching a child killed by an airstrike being pulled from rubble; displacement for the second, fifth or tenth time.

How do we repair the shattered minds and emotions of these survivors? Where do we begin to bring people back from a state of mental anguish where the thought of a quick death is seen as a glimmer of mercy?

As a Palestinian from the West Bank, I am no stranger to the trauma faced by Palestinians in the occupied territories, and I have spent my career trying to answer those questions and capture and convey the various injustices faced by Palestinians, specifically as they relate to health. Most current frameworks for mental health are almost totally insufficient to describe and reckon with the war-related trauma Palestinians in Gaza have endured these last several months. And by extension, our traditional methods of providing mental health care will not be enough, either.

The aftermath of this war will undoubtedly include a harrowing period of recovery that will require extraordinary financial and political investment. But it’s also a time to rethink mental health in populations that have experienced such devastating collective trauma, as well as what genuine healing may look like to ensure that hope and justice, and not just continued trauma, is passed down to future generations. While military campaigns are being waged, the numbers of dead and physically injured tell us just one story about the entirety of the mental and emotional agony being perpetuated, funded and justified.

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