Israeli and Palestinian children raised in the conflict are likely to have stress disorders

Ron Rokhy

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Palestinian and Israeli children are taking the brunt of the psychological damage generated by their countries’ conflict, said Dr. Orily J. Peter, director and founder of the Center for Accelerated Psychology.

CSUN’s psychology department sponsored a presentation Sunday about how children in the region are impacted by generations of conflict.  Orily said the children are extremely susceptible to stress disorders.

“A child is more amenable to brain toxicity if they stay in traumatic situations for extended periods of time,” said Peter. “When your body responds to a threat, it releases chemicals such as cortisol and dopamine, and high levels of these can not only lead to continuous stress disorders, they can even impact the brain’s architecture.”

The two more serious disorders children can develop are a continuous form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) , Peter said.

PTSD, which is a persistent state of mental and emotional stress caused by psychological shock, is the most common among Israeli and Palestinian children, especially those living in Gaza.

“Children are at the greatest risk for developing PTSD and co-morbid disorders, such as depression, as a result of war and terrorism,” Peter said. “PTSD rates in Gaza tend to be consistently the highest — more than in the West Bank or Israel.”

About 70 percent of adolescents living in Gaza exposed to the ongoing conflict have a form of PTSD, Peter said.

However, DTD is the more destructive disorder because it can impact the physical growth of a child’s organs, such as shrinking the hippocampus, Peter said.

“(Developmental Trauma Disorder) occurs when a person is severely abused or neglected as a child,” Peter said. “The longer a child has adverse traumatic experiences, the more DTD becomes entrenched.”

Dr. Wael abu-Hassan, assistant professor at Arab American University, said children living around the conflict aren’t getting a chance to enjoy the sweetness of life.

“Children are supposed to enjoy the innocence of being young,” abu-Hassan said. “But instead, they are being scarred by this conflict.”

According to abu-Hassan, a 2004 study of 950 children in Gaza ages 10-20 showed that over 50 percent have some sort of stress disorder, 32.7 percent of them being severe forms.

“Since 2010, Palestine has lost 6,500 people, half of them being women and children,” he said. “But for me, it’s not about the numbers, any loss of life is a huge loss, and I feel we should all stand up and do what we can to help, no matter how minuscule of a task we perform.”

Both Peter and abu-Hassan agree that both sides are suffering, and treating children properly is key to keeping them safe.

“Safety can help thwart stress disorders,” Peter said. “If they feel safe at home with their parents or are lucky enough to have a teacher they feel safe with, their risk of having PTSD or DTD reduces significantly, even if they’re surrounded by war.”