When we hear about post-traumatic stress disorder and war, it generally concerns soldiers who’ve been emotionally damaged by the horrors of combat.
But what about civilians living in conflict zones? How does war impact them psychologically?
To find out, a group of researchers studied teenagers in Gaza, where 1,800 people have died and 33,000 have lost their homes over the past couple of months as a result of the fighting between Hamas and Israel. Perhaps not surprisingly, they found that the teens are just as likely to suffer from PTSD as any combat soldier.
According to the new study, published in the Arab Journal of Psychiatry, 92 percent of Palestinian children between the ages of 15 and 18 had symptoms of PTSD, and 30 percent of the teens bore the full brunt of the illness.
Dr. Panos Vostanis, a professor of child psychology at the U.K.’s University of Leicester, is a co-author of the report. Vostanis has conducted these types of studies for the past 15 years in collaboration with researchers in Gaza, and the results are always grim. “Probably the most depressing takeaway this time was the cumulative effect.
You now have generations that have experienced this trauma several times,” he says, referring to the multiple conflicts that have plagued the region since 2000.
For his latest study, Vosatnis surveyed 358 adolescents in Gaza after the war in 2008. He found that 91 percent of them had seen mutilated bodies, 89 percent had been exposed to shelling by artillery and 60 percent had experienced the death of a relative and/or a close friend, among other wartime atrocities.
The teens suffered from classic signs of PTSD, including nightmares, anxiety, phobias and self-destructive behavior. Vostanis’ findings echo similar reports, such as one conducted after the 2012 war by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, which found that the rate of PTSD among children in Gaza doubled after that year’s conflict.
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