Fear has no scent or sound, but it has a color: 'Red’

By
August 26, 2011 08:03

Sderot’s mental health clinic manager speaks about the widening circle of PTSD sufferers in the South following Palestinian rockets.

4 minute read.



A WOMAN is evacuated from the scene of a rocket at

A WOMAN is evacuated from the scene of a rocket attack in Be. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The circle of southern cities coming under Palestinian rocket fire is growing wider, which is also raising the number of silent sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

As media reports this week focused on casualties, sirens, air strikes and cease-fires, little attention was paid to the fact that one million Israelis are now susceptible to long-lasting psychological damage caused by rockets falling indiscriminately out of the sky.

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The most traumatized town remains the community that has been targeted the most: Sderot, hit by over 8,000 rockets since 2000.

“We’re living this for close to 11 years,” a weary-sounding Dr. Adriana Katz, who heads a Health Ministry mental health clinic in the town, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. After reports emerged about an air force assassination of a senior Islamic Jihad terrorist in Gaza overnight Wednesday, Katz’s clinic filled up with anxious patients.

“We had a clinic full with people suffering from anxiety attacks. They’re expecting something to happen. This anxiety isn’t just happening when there are rocket attacks, but also before and after,” she said.

Katz, a resident of Ashkelon, which joined the rocket zone in 2008, noted that during the so-called “quiet period” of two years following Operation Cast Lead, 900 projectiles were fired into the South from Gaza.

“The only thing I know is quiet for sure is the world. The world is not talking.

No one is paying attention. I try to tell our story on Facebook to people overseas, to explain the situation. But it doesn’t interest anyone,” she said.

One of the reasons for the apathy could be ignorance of the psychological damage caused by the rockets, which “cannot be photographed like blood” and which is masked by the phrase often heard after such attacks to give the all-clear: “No injuries or damages reported.”

“If I could write a book, I think I would call it ‘No Injuries or Damages,’” Katz said. “I never knew how to explain fear. It had no scent, no sound. But one day I realized it had a color. The color red.”

She was referring to the city’s rocket alert system, in which a female voice announces on a network of loudspeakers the words “Color red,” and residents flee for cover before the dreaded explosion.

Sderot has an estimated 4,000 sufferers of PTSD, of which 1,500 seek out therapy in Katz’s clinic. “Out of those, I’d say there are 150 to 200 very serious cases. These are people who cannot be returned to normal life,” she added.

“We can’t point to a recovery in the future for them.”

Now she is beginning to identify worrying signs among some residents of the South’s major cities that are coming under attack.

“I know people in Ashkelon who still haven’t left their rocket-safe zones since last Saturday. These are normal people who work, and are lucky to have a safe zone. But they haven’t gone out, not even to work, since the upsurge in attacks,” she said.

In addition, she went on, “since Cast Lead, we’ve seen a number of severe incidents in which people went on to develop schizophrenia. This is the most shocking result. They were diagnosed with schizophrenia as a direct result of the trauma they suffered from rockets.”

For mental health workers, the most frustrating aspect of the job is that every new rocket attack can erase years of progress made during therapy, sending patients back to square one. “Every incident brings back the past incidents,” she noted. “So there’s a sense of desperation in the profession. It’s like working on empty.”

And while rocket defense measures – like reinforced structures in Sderot, and the Iron Dome rocket shield in Ashkelon – provide security, their presence can also be perceived as a representation of the threat, she pointed out. With Beersheba and Ashdod joining the list of cities in which people have been killed and wounded by rockets, Katz said many residents would go through the deep realization process that the attacks are lethal threats.

“I went through the same realization. At first, you believe these are toys.

Then, after casualties are suffered, you experience the cognitive transformation that this is something dangerous that can kill, and then you begin to fear,” she said. “And this is happening in every city where the rockets are falling.”

Children react much like adults to the trauma, Israeli therapists have found.

“The children can regress in schools, suffer bed-wetting, and have behavioral issues. We see this in adults too, and that’s very frightening,” said Katz, adding that there is “insufficient awareness and attempts to deal with the issues of trauma” in the country.

“Even here, there is not a full understanding of the significance of trauma, and its consequences on people,” she said.


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