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40% of Israeli children in Gaza border town of Sderot suffer from anxiety, PTSD

“The ongoing situation in Sderot causes PTSD at a rate three or four times greater than that of the rest of the country,” expert says.
ShowImage Shelter in Sderot. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

As the nation marks the first anniversary of Operation Protective Edge, the children of Sderot and the Gaza periphery are still dealing with the conflict’s aftermath.

Some 40 percent of the children in Sderot suffer from symptoms of anxiety, fear and PTSD, according to a recent study.

Even during wartime, the level of PTSD among children nationwide hovers is somewhere between 7 and 10 percent, Prof. Ruth Pat- Horenczyk explained.

Pat-Horenczyk, director of the child and adolescent clinical services unit at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, at Herzog Memorial Hospital in the capital, discussed her research and understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“The ongoing situation in Sderot causes PTSD at a rate three or four times greater than that of the rest of the country,” she said.

Identifying signs of PTSD is not easy, Pat-Horenczyk. Many parents think and hope that the irregular patterns of behavior that characterize the disorder will fade over time. A professional knowledgeable of children’s development is needed to accurately diagnose the problem, she said.

“Children don’t always say things verbally. They don’t always speak about their fears directly. They show it through behavior and their developmental progress,” the psychologist explained.

One of the first signs of the disorder is regression, with sufferers reverting to behaviors suitable for a younger child. A toilet-trained youngster may have accidents, use a bottle or a diaper, or start talking like a younger child.

Other manifestations can include fears that did not exist before – even if they are not directly related to a triggering event, such as the war – separation anxiety that did not exist before, trouble sleeping and anger issues.

“What’s important, first and foremost, is to notice if there is a change in the child’s behavior,” she explained.

Other signs can include quieter children speaking out more, outgoing children becoming more introverted, and children playing in a way that shows a preoccupation with the conflict – such as constantly acting out red alerts and hiding from rockets.

Other signs can be the development of new fears, shying away from trying new things, increased difficulties in school, or trouble falling asleep at night.


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