Children in the occupied Palestinian territory are facing new levels of depression and anxiety. However, due to a number of factors, most suffer in silence. To prevent children from falling through the cracks, War Child has developed a support program – now active in 100 schools across the West Bank.
Four out of five children
The impact of the violence and the 15-year blockade on children’s mental health is far-reaching. Four out of five children in the Gaza Strip alone say they are living with depression, grief and fear. With the well-being of parents and caregivers deteriorating and mental health services virtually non-existent, the structures that serve to protect children are shrinking rapidly.
Through ReachNow – our new, evidence-based program – War Child is giving communities the tools to prevent children from falling into the gap.
Low cost, high impact
Ok, sounds promising – but how does it work? The program is based around a simple tool – a piece of paper presenting a case study and a decision table. The case study is illustrated through a series of narratives describing common examples of children experiencing psychological distress.
Trained community facilitators use the tool to identify children they believe need psychological support. A more in-depth assessment is then carried out with a professional mental health worker.
In the occupied West Bank, this low-cost, high-impact method is being adopted by teachers in school settings.
With over ten years in the profession, Nour is one of those teachers. She works at an elementary school in the West Bank. Previously, if she saw difficult behavior in the classroom, she would refer the child to the internal counselor. Unsure of what constituted a referral, she often hesitated and trusted fellow teachers without regard for the student’s privacy.
She also indicated that she did not consider more subtle warning signs—such as “a child withdrawing from activities or being unusually quiet”—because she did not see these behaviors as potential symptoms.
Now, Nour sees her class in a whole new light. “Suddenly, I was able to distinguish between behavioral and emotional indicators of distress,” she says. “And don’t write kids off as ‘problem students’ who want to cause trouble.” “I also gained vital knowledge on the practical procedures to follow after identifying a child.”
The mental health treatment gap
With the support of these ‘community gatekeepers’, War Child – together with a local expert mental health partner organization – have managed to identify 403 children in 100 schools across the region. Five of these children were later referred to specialist services.
“Most children identified by the tool receive some form of psychological support,” says Myrthe van den Broek, lead researcher. “However, we still have challenges in referral mechanisms due to limited capacity to track cases.”
Despite exploring new ways to provide quality support, the lack of mental health services and human capacity remains a major barrier. The 2.7 million people living in the West Bank have a limited number of psychologists available.
Urgent need for investment
“We are working to spread the method in Ukraine, Uganda and elsewhere,” says Myrthe. “But to do that, we need to address this glaring care gap on both the supply and demand side. Ultimately, this requires funding — and far more than the three cents per person currently spent on mental health care globally.”
For more on ReachNow and its impact to date, visit this page.