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One Year After War, Study Shows 40% of Children in Sderot Suffer from PTSD

40 percent of children in Sderot, a city less than a mile from the Gaza Strip that frequently comes under fire from rockets, experience symptoms of anxiety, fear, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a study reported in The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.

“Even during wartime, the level of PTSD among children nationwide hovers is somewhere between 7 and 10 percent, Prof. Ruth Pat- Horenczyk explained.

“The ongoing situation in Sderot causes PTSD at a rate three or four times greater than that of the rest of the country,” she said.

Hamas and other terrorist groups have fired thousands of rockets into Sderot over the last 14 years, with the rate of fire spiking during conflicts such as last year’s Operation Protective Edge. A rocket fired by Hamas scored a direct hit on a factory in Sderot on June 28, 2014, setting it ablaze. From July 1 to July 3 alone, Hamas fired over 80 rockets into the region, leaving residents with no more than 15 seconds to find one of the hundreds of shelters around the city. The region was “targeted regularly” during the conflict.

According to Pat-Horenczyk’s study, this resulted in signs of PTSD, particularly among children: separation anxiety, regression to behavior befitting earlier ages, trouble sleeping, developing new fears, and anger issues.

The report shows the uninterrupted impact Hamas rocket fire has had on civilians in the towns on the periphery of the Gaza Strip.  A similar study conducted in 2007 found that 75 percent of children aged 4-18 in Sderot suffered from PTSD.

But Pat-Horenczyk’s study also revealed how Sderot residents are bonding together to withstand the trauma:

Playing and having fun is an important part of the process of dealing with the anxiety caused by living near the Gaza Strip.

Despite the high levels of anxiety, fear and PTSD among children in Sderot and the Gaza periphery, most of the children and the parents deal with the situation with resilience, according to Pat-Horenczyk – “even the most difficult situations.”

The particular plight and resilience of Sderot residents has attracted American psych students to study how trauma is treated in the area. They found that in Sderot, “a strong sense of social support mitigates trauma and stress as much or more than anything else.”

[Photo: Israel Defense Forces / Flickr ]