Shrinking the Shrink Gap

The seesawing peace process is forcing Israelis and Palestinians to confronta host of religious and cultural differences. And one of the most striking gaps that separate the two sides is in their mental health systems.

There are only eight Palestinian psychologists and 11 psychiatrists operating among the two million Palestinians in the West Ban nd Gaza, notes Elia Awwad, Ph.D., director of a counselling center in Arab East Jerusalem, That's one shrink for every 1000,000 people.

Israel, meanwhile, boasts nearly 8,000 practicing psychologists and psychiatrists—one per 640 residents.

Palestinians psychologists say the lack of mental health care coincides with a desperate need for it. Awwad says that nearly half of one sample of women in the West Bank were suffering from a psychological disorder. And in Gaza, research suggests that 50 percent of children suffer anxiety problems and a fourth suffer form depression. "Unfortunately, we do not have trained people to deal with the trauma," says Awwad.

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Some Israeli psychologists are willing to help, insists Dan Bar-On, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Israel's Ben Gurion University. "However, at the moment our willingness to help exceeds their willingness to accept it, and we have to approach the situation delicately, We don't want to impose."

Trouble is, right now residents of the West Bank and Gaza are primarily concerned about politics, the peace process, and their new government. Says Awwad: "no one is paying much attention to our psychological needs—but we'll have to start one day. Our future depends on it."

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