As unemployment and poverty rocket in Gaza, mental health issues are becoming more prevalent and manifesting in a horrific way: suicide is on the rise, writes Mohammed Arafat
by Mohammed Arafat* – al Araby
Away from the political clashes and the polemics between Israel and the Palestinians, social problems have inundated the Gaza Strip since the harsh siege imposed by Israel in 2006. While disagreements continue, the people of Gaza are the ones paying the price for all political changes. Repeatedly, we are warned of a crisis brewing as life in the Strip becomes harder.
A week ago, a father stabbed his three children, nine, twelve and nineteen years respectively, before setting himself on fire. Talal Abu Dbaa, who died four days later in extensive care at the hospital, suffered from mental disorder according to authorities. He is among the 30% of Gazans who are suffering from some form of trauma due to poverty and siege.
Unfortunately, Abu Dbaa is not the only one. Three weeks ago, another father had also committed suicide by self-immolation, setting himself alight in front of a charity institution. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that 65% of Palestinians living in the enclave suffer from poverty, and unemployment is at an all-time high at 47%. These driving factors are likely contributing to the increasing suicide phenomena.
The same report states that 80% of Gazans depend on foreign and external aid, including donations and food parcels from international organisations. NGOs attempt to bridge the poverty gap and overcome the high unemployment crisis. Fearing social stigma, families of victims in the Gaza Strip often refuse to explain the reasons for suicide. Authorities also downplay these events for political reasons, and accurate numbers and details are hard to come by.
Zahiya al-Farrah, a psychologist at the Gaza Institute for Physiological Health, explains how the people in Gaza have lost hope in life, caught up between the Fatah-Hamas divisions, and the siege that has turned the Strip into an open-air prison.
Al-Farrah believes that depression is prevalent among the citizens, as no solutions appear to be upcoming any time soon.
“Unemployment makes people feel they are dependent and useless towards their families and country, so they go to the bad side of life, and begin committing suicide, killing and stealing,” she added. Like any other physiological institution or centre, the Gaza Institute for Physiological Health helps those who suffer from trauma or physiological problems, nearly ten per cent of the population.
On the other hand, Issa Jaradat, a physiological and social specialist, believes that the suicide cases occurring in the Strip is not a phenomenon, but an exceptional case that occurs when these factors appear. The problem seems inherited from one generation to another, since the occupation in 1948, and is not the result of new pressures or developments. “While the occupation is responsible, we should not neglect other factors here,” Jarafat explained.
Dr. Ayman Sahabani, speaking at a conference, says that nearly thirty suicide cases reached al-Shifa Hospital, attempting different methods from knives, insecticides, self-immolation, jumping off a high place or hanging. “Most of those trying to commit suicide are youths, and thankfully, we managed to rescue some,” he added.
*Mohammed Arafat holds a bachelor degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is preparing for a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. Author of, Still Living There, a book documenting Gaza’s last war and its aftermath.