2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, which is characterized by ongoing blockades, arrests, human rights abuses, repeated military aggressions, illegal settlement building, settler violence, the ongoing construction of the Separation Wall, home destructions, and many other injustices, all having a devastating effect on the physical, psychosocial and mental health of Palestinians. While there have been improvements over the last two decades in the physical health status, there has been a marked increase in mental health and psychosocial disorders, such as depression, ongoing anxieties, aggressive behaviours, family violence and other psychosocial triggers. Marginalized groups such as refugees and Bedouins, who prioritize survival and steadfastness in the face of obstacles, as well as children and women are often those most affected but with the least access to health resources and services, due to financial or socio-cultural factors. Overall, percentage estimates of Palestinians in need of mental and psychosocial health interventions range from 30% - 40%. This alarming statistic is a stark reminder that mental and psychosocial disorders are one of the largest but least acknowledged of all health crises. In addition to a lack of knowledge and awareness within the population, there remains a strong stigma and social taboo attached to those experiencing mental health and psychosocial problems.
The existing mental and psychosocial health care system is ill-equipped to deal with the needs of the Palestinian population: In addition to insufficient infrastructure, it is vastly under-resourced with too few qualified personnel. Although the urgent need for more specialized professionals is acknowledged by the Palestinian Authority, there has not been as of yet any strategy developed to close this gap.
In addition to improvements regarding the numbers of mental and psychosocial health care professionals, there is also a requirement to improve the quality of their trainings: Palestinian Universities typically offer BA degrees in psychology or social work, largely theoretically-based, but lacking the practical experience to develop the skills essential to working with people in this field, including communication, building relationships and being able to understand and respond to non-verbal distress signals.
This experience may be acquired over a period of years in the form of short-term training programmes, however none of these programmes offer in-depth, long-term intensive training, both clinical and practical within an organisation. The result is a lack of well-trained mental and psychosocial health professionals specialized in psychotherapy.
Currently this gap is covered by international experts, which is costly, dependent on external funding, and often not adapted to the unique Palestinian cultural, social and geopolitical context. It also fails to address the long-terms needs of the population as well as strategies related to exit plans and sustainability.