Every evening, I look at my children and thank God that danger is far from them. But at other times, I imagine that something is happening, and I hear sounds that aren't real. When I try to sleep, I'm haunted by disturbing nightmares, where I see my family in danger," describes Samah, who hails from the Kafr El Sheikh Governorate in Egypt, conveying the emotions she has been feeling since the beginning of the war on Gaza.
She tells Raseef22, "It's hard not to watch the videos. It's impossible to see them and not cry and have our mental state affected. We feel utterly powerless. At times, I cry for extended periods when I see videos of children being killed, and this is reflected in my fear for my own children, so I hug them and cry."
"It's hard not to watch the videos. It's impossible to see them and not cry, or have our mental state affected. We feel powerless. When I see videos of children being killed, it reflects in my fear for my own children, so all I can do is hug them and cry"
Samah, a 31-year-old psychology specialist, says that following these events can leave significant psychological disturbances in individuals, often without their awareness. She states, "The situation is unbearably painful, and what's happening there is a kind of unjustifiable madness. I think we're all collectively grappling with depression."
In reality, continuously watching scenes of children and innocents being killed in Gaza around the clock for over three weeks takes an immense toll on the mental well-being of people. They become vulnerable to various psychological disorders, all while exacerbating issues such as sleeplessness, heightened stress, and a pervasive loss of their sense of security.
So what can we do to maintain and safeguard our mental health in the midst of all these harrowing scenes?
Loss of security
Huda, 26, has been grappling with an inability to sleep since the inception of the war on Gaza. She informs Raseef22 that she manages to sleep only a few hours each day and misses the sense of calm and reassurance that she's used to. During her few hours of sleep, she encounters a multitude of entirely irrational nightmares. "The last thing I see before going to sleep is what's happening in Gaza, and the first thing I do in the morning is check what happened there during the night. I watch all the accounts of people I know there, observe what's happening and monitor the developments on social media, and then at night, during sleep, all of it comes back to me. I see myself amidst the rubble, and once I saw my mother, and I was screaming cause I couldn't save her."
Continuously watching scenes of children and innocent civilians being killed in Gaza around the clock takes an immense toll on people's mental well-being. So what can we do to maintain and safeguard our mental health in the midst of all these harrowing scenes?
In this context, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "watching the news throughout the day or repeatedly checking our social media feeds for the latest updates" during times of war "may feel comforting at the moment, but the effect is short-lived. It feels like we are more in control of our lives, but it eventually leads to anxiety and tension."
According to Dr. Amanda Spray, clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone Health, excessive consumption of news "can be detrimental to one’s mental health” and can eventually result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In response, experts at WebMD recommend reducing or temporarily discontinuing exposure to certain types of news, especially if it's emotionally overwhelming. It's suggested to limit the time spent on smartphones consuming war-related news and accept that during wars, it is difficult to predict future events.
Psychologists have identified a range of symptoms indicating that an individual may be experiencing mental health problems. These include feelings of anger, headaches, stomachaches, excessive or reduced sleep, unwarranted guilt, decreased energy, increased smoking, and withdrawal from social interactions.
Psychological counselor Dr. Mona Qabil, speaking to Raseef22, explains that watching what is happening in Gaza carries significant risks and has severe psychological effects on an individual's nervous system, seriously impacting their psyche and mental well-being. “These scenes do not pass normally like any other scene, but rather they affect the nervous system and the psychological well-being of the person. Such exposure triggers feelings of tension, anxiety, and profound sadness, giving rise to the worst emotions, including a loss of security and fear for their sons and daughters. All this often comes in the form of nightmares and disrupted sleep patterns. Others suffer from insomnia, and may see or hear the voices of children, like the ones we are seeing dying every day in Gaza.”
Dr. Mona Qabil adds, "To emerge from this crisis with minimal psychological damage, individuals need to allocate some time where they can separate themselves and step away from watching these videos for a little while. During this time, engaging in a hobby, going outside for fresh air, watching TV, or having conversations with close friends on unrelated topics can help. This can break the cycle of obsessive focus and alleviate emotional pain, whether in the form of sadness or depression."
"The situation is unbearably painful, and what's happening there is madness and completely unjustifiable. I think we're all collectively grappling with depression. All I see is what's happening in Gaza, and at night, it all comes back to me in horrid nightmares"
In the same context, mental health expert Antar Suleiman states that confronting reality is one of the best ways to overcome any psychological crisis. He emphasizes that "every individual should understand the cause and play a significant role in raising awareness among youth and children about their cause, and each individual should perform his/her role in his field in a way that enables him/her to continue supporting the cause."
Suleiman tells Raseef22, "Support and involvement don't necessarily require watching the videos. What's more important is that each person plays their part. Some may donate, while others may participate in demonstrations to support the cause." He underscores the importance of realizing that this injustice will eventually end, and the enemy's actions represent a form of defeat. Spiritual connections, faith, and resilience are tools that can help individuals reach a level of strength that prevents falling into depression or despair.
A feeling of guilt?
Mahmoud, 32, mostly feels the fear of witnessing such disasters in Egypt. He tells Raseef22, "I never truly appreciated the blessings of safety and home until I watched videos of Gaza residents moving from place to place in search of safety without suitable shelter for them and their families... All I fear is that this might happen to us."
One of the most challenging emotions that can arise during these times is a sense of guilt when individuals continue with their normal lives. This is a sentiment shared by Laila, a 26-year-old Egyptian citizen, who expresses, "I feel like a traitor when I find myself leading a normal life and attending social events with my family.. I don't believe it's my right, or anyone's right, to be happy while every moment, our brothers on the border are being unjustly killed."
Laila adds, "I and many of my friends experience this feeling when we discuss everyday topics and daily issues. We feel like we've abandoned the cause and forgotten our people in Gaza, but this isn't the reality."
In response to this, Dr. Mona Qabil warns against this extreme, unnecessary and unproductive feeling of guilt. She states that this "guilt is more applicable to individuals responsible and capable of enacting change, rather than the average person with limited ability. Self-torture is unacceptable, and if it is allowed to persist, it may hinder one's duties and work.
"I feel like a traitor when I find myself leading a normal life and attending social events with my family.. I don't believe it's my right, or anyone's right, to be happy while, every moment, our brothers right on the border are being unjustly killed"
In light of this, Qabil emphasizes the importance of everyone playing their part within their means. Some may express their anger on social media, participate in marches rejecting the oppressor's actions, or translate some of these actions. However, extremes and self-torture are completely unacceptable.
In an article by Shishira Sreenivas on WebMed, mental health experts provide a set of tips for individuals to follow while monitoring events during times of war and crises, focusing on self-care and general well-being:
Firstly, aim to consume healthy and nutritious food whenever possible.
Secondly, ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep and drink plenty of water.
Thirdly, if someone is experiencing a mental condition such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or depression, excessive news consumption can worsen the situation. In such cases, it is essential to consult with a mental health professional without hesitation.
Experts also recommend engaging in various physical activities to release negative tension and participating in different activities with close friends.
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