Dr. Bracha: Children still suffering
Photo: Hagai Aharon
Second Lebanon War. Traumatic
Photo: AFP

New program battles northern children's war trauma

Psychological studies find thousands of children still traumatized by Second Lebanon War; two years later, they fear school bells, news reports, terror attack reports. Afula Medical Center struggles to make parents aware of anxiety disorders

Two years have passed since the Second Lebanon War broke out, and Israel's north has already been cleared of all visible damage. However, mothers living in the north have found that perhaps the most serious damage is the harm done to the minds of their children.


"For the children of the north," says the mother of a 7-year old girl from Amakim, "the war is not over. This week we saw military vehicles and she asked me: Mom, will we have a war this vacation, too?"


The mother said it had taken her a while to understand that her daughter was suffering from mental trauma. When she was afraid to go to school upon entering the first grade, her mother thought it was normal, and even when she asked whether the school had a fortified room and called the bell an 'alarm', the reason for her daughter's fears did not dawn on her.


The family resides near a school, which was turned into a military camp during the war. The girl could not understand where the soldiers were upon returning to school from summer vacation, and eventually asked the teacher why the soldiers were not coming back to school. "Then I began to understand that maybe there was some connection to the war. Suddenly everything came together," the mother said.


Immediately after the war 55,000 children were diagnosed with different levels of anxiety syndromes. Many of them arrived at HaEmek Hospital's mental health clinic for children and teens in Afula. When patient arrivals tapered off a little after the war ended, Dr. Ziva Bracha, who manages the department, wondered where they had disappeared to.


"Months passed, and none of the parents came in," Bracha said. "On the other hand, I kept hearing the medical team telling of a long list of anxieties their children were suffering from. I realized something had to be done, and that we had to tell the community."


With a donation from United Jewish Appeal the wheels were set into motion, though Bracha claims some of the local authorities had trouble believing her claims. "Some raised an eyebrow; how can it be that after over a year since the war, there are still those who suffer from shock. Finally we got full cooperation," she explained.


'No spontaneous recovery'

At first educators were asked to filter out the children in the schools that appeared to require treatment. "We were exposed to a large number of children suffering from post-trauma," said Shay Sorer, a social worker who deals with children.


"We saw children that are unable to listen to the news, and children who fear the noise made by airplanes, the school bell, or attacks that occur elsewhere," he added. The symptoms included sleep and learning disorders, troublesome thoughts about the war, and fear of leaving the house, as well as bedwetting in younger ages.


Using a new treatment developed by Prof. Edna Foa, a clinical psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, therapists return the children to the painful time and teach them how to deal with it. "It is important that parents understand there is no spontaneous recovery here – time in this case will not heal all wounds," said Sorer.


The community program, scheduled to run until December, includes house calls made by a psychological and medical team. Part of its aim is to fight the stigma latched onto the appeal for psychological therapy. "We have treated 70 children suffering from post-trauma so far," Bracha said. "I fear there are many more who have not yet received treatment, either because of the stigma or because parents have not connected the symptoms of fear to the war."


The 7-year old girl is expected to join the program during the next few weeks, along with her 9-year old brother, who suffers traumatic recurrences of the summer of 2006. "I'm not afraid, I'm worried, because unfortunately the wars are not over," he claims while discussing the anxiety he feels when he hears about another terror attack.


"I believe mortar shells will still fall, because there are bad people in the world. I'm worried something will happen to my dog, or that I'll lose a relative, or that Hizbullah will harm my legos and books. In the war I was scared, too. If they came close, I'd teach them with Capoeira kicks that they shouldn't try to mess with us."


פרסום ראשון: 07.12.08, 12:21
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