Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Gaza girls face discrimination and stigma seeking mental care

When Maha, a nine-year-old Palestinian girl living in Gaza, visited a doctor to seek treatment for mental health problems she was told not to come back or she would likely be stigmatised for life, ruining her marriage prospects.

Despite high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression in the Palestinian territory, mental health experts say families often avoid seeking help for their daughters for fear of wrecking the family reputation and the girl's chances of finding a husband.

"There is a general stigma and lack of awareness around mental health," said Bassam Abu Hamad, a public health consultant at Al Quds University in Gaza.

"People think mental health problems are something to do with the devil and supernatural forces. They think that people with such problems have lost their minds and are crazy."

Hamad says Maha's story highlights the worrying gaps in mental health services in Gaza, the cultural barriers girls face in accessing care and the urgent need for better training of general doctors.

"In Maha's case, the doctor - a general practitioner - said that continuing to visit mental health services would affect her reputation and she would be stigmatised forever," Hamad said.

Maha was originally taken to the doctor primarily for epilepsy, which in Gaza is treated as a mental health issue.

Her condition deteriorated during last year's conflict in the territory after she had to run for her life when the family's home in Beit Hanoun was bombed. more

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