The ongoing conflict in Israel has given rise to a significant mental health crisis among the Israeli population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This crisis has been exacerbated by the conflict that began on October 7 and has been ongoing for 17 days. Dr. Michel Thieren, the WHO Special Representative in Israel, emphasized that the people in Israel are constantly burdened by the conflict, which occupies their thoughts 24 hours a day.
Dr. Thieren further noted that this collective psychological burden has led to a growing demand for mental health services, and mental health issues have become more prevalent among the population. The suffering experienced by individuals is immense, and many no longer feel safe, which is a significant departure from their recent history.
Furthermore, Dr. Thieren highlighted the challenges faced by nurses, doctors, and other medical staff who are exposed to the traumatic stories of the people they treat. This exposure has a high likelihood of disturbing their own mental health.
Reports indicate that during the two-week-plus conflict, approximately 1400 people have lost their lives, and 4600 have been injured, placing a heavy burden on healthcare workers who are working tirelessly to provide care.
Dr. Michel Thieren, in his role as WHO Special Representative, has been actively assessing the health response in Israel. He has visited hospitals, interacted with the injured, spoken to displaced individuals, and toured towns and villages that have been destroyed or deserted.
During his visit to a hospital in Ashkelon, he was struck by the fact that many of the severely injured patients he spoke to were more focused on the people they had seen die in front of them than on their own injuries. These survivors are haunted by those memories, and their urgent need for mental health support is evident.
The conflict has also seen multiple attacks on healthcare and medical facilities in Israel, resulting in casualties. Dr. Thieren also mentioned the situation of over 200 Israeli hostages held by Gaza militants, many of whom have pre-existing health conditions requiring ongoing care. The continued captivity of these individuals has hindered the healing process for the wider public.
Dr. Thieren’s visit extended to military bases, where bodies of victims were being stored in refrigeration. The doctors and forensic experts were working to identify these bodies, but the process was slow and challenging. Dr. Thieren emphasized the emotional impact this work had on those involved.
In summary, the conflict in Israel has not only resulted in physical injuries and loss of life but has also taken a severe toll on the mental health of the population, as well as healthcare workers and professionals involved in the crisis response. The situation remains challenging and traumatic, with significant work needed to address both physical and mental health needs.