Fieldset
Mental health in Palestine: “It shows strength to ask for help”

Psychologist Marilen Osinalde explains how mental trauma can build-up, and the hope that can be found in seeking support

M came to our mental health clinic asking for help.

Fortunately, he had realised he needed it and that there is no reason to be ashamed of it. As he stated, he can’t sleep because every time he goes to bed what happened to him comes to his mind.

He doesn’t eat and fights with his wife all the time. He is tired and feels weak. More deeply, he is scared, because he thinks all the time that they can come back and kill his children.

He told me how he changed. He used to be a quiet man from a small village, he loved to work but now he cannot do it. Settlers have destroyed the only resource that he had to bring money to his family and buy some food. He thinks all night about how his life is broken.

I can see how overwhelming life is here, there are pressures and controls everywhere

He came asking for psychological aid, he doesn’t want to give up.

The silent, psychological war

As a psychologist, I consider that this is what happens after years living under direct and indirect violence in an unhealthy environment.

The ongoing occupation and internal violence seem to be established as part of normal life and has had a serious impact on mental health. I can see how overwhelming life is here, there are pressures and controls everywhere.

MSF287936.jpg

An MSF mental health specialist, who has supported families for nearly 20 years, walks to meet patients in Hebron
An MSF mental health specialist, who has supported families for nearly 20 years, walks to meet patients in Hebron

In M’s life, this silent war is also psychological, breaking down any hope. He has been exposed to traumatic and stressful events many times in his daily life.

When something so painful happens every day, the human mind adapts to it as a way to survive. But, nobody can feel such pain all the time without consequences.

At some point the mind accepts that it cannot change the environment, then the only thing that we can do is just surrender and accept the reality.

It causes us to suffer, like a virus inside you that eats your hope and energy, developing a sense of hopelessness.

Intergenerational trauma

For M, it makes him feel powerless and unprotected because he knows he cannot fight against it. As a psychotherapist, I can see how he is trying to overcome and develop his own skills to survive, as others have done as well.

Asking for psychological aid is a way to resist, to become even stronger – to not give up, even if the reality becomes worse every day

From a mental health point of view, experiencing a “unique horrible event” is not the only cause of trauma.

It can also be built, day by day, living through these inhuman yet common events. Simple life can become stressful, potentially traumatic and difficult and it is shared among different generations. This is what we call “intergenerational trauma”.

The community

For some people here, spirituality is an important part of their lives. As I have seen and experienced, it is completely different from the image that some might have of Islam that's based on ignorance and disinformation.

MSF287964.jpg

Inside a mosque in the West Bank
Inside a mosque in the West Bank

Sometimes praying is the best and only option that M finds. It gives him the strength he needs because he can feel there is something powerful that take care of him and protect him, even if outside there is something threatening. It gives him some space to reflect on and find a meaning, to feel safe.

Based on my professional experience, I can see how the community helps as much as it can.

Suffering is a common feeling between them, they understand each other. They resist and keep smiling; this is their way to show how strong they are. They share their pain as they share their bread, and let other people witness their reality. This is an adaptive way to overcome.

Finding strength

Paradoxically, asking for help and recognising the pain is the strongest and healthiest option. Not only here, but everywhere.

It gives M the option to be aware of how much he has been suffering and how he could survive. Therefore, he can see how strong he is. From a psychological perspective, it would be normal to forget how strong you had become after so many years experiencing such violence.

Asking for psychological aid is a way to resist, to become even stronger – to not give up, even if the reality becomes worse every day.

This is where MSF can help.

In our mental health clinic, we provide psychosocial support and psychotherapy. We offer free and confidential support. There is a committed team of local staff who assist their community and create a healthy place where people like M can share their pain and be understood.

We help our patients to develop psychological tools and find the mental strength that let will let them continue with their lives and overcome the pain.

For people living in a constantly violent environment, finding psychological strength is a way to resist.

--

Read more: Stories from Occupied Palestinian Territory

Gaza's numbing routine of injury and death
Gaza: Helping Sunny Boy walk again