Residents should talk about anxiety, says director of Haifa welfare clinic

Dr. Rivka Yahav, head of the Interdisciplinary Clinical Center, Faculty of Social Welfare & Health Studies at Haifa University and wife of Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that, with constant Hizbullah rockets falling on the North, Haifa was a changed city. However, she said, despite the ongoing crisis, most people were naturally resilient and could probably sustain disruption to 'regular' life for quite sometime. "The problem at the moment, the real stress, is that you do not know when a rocket will hit you. It could happen anytime," said Yahav, who is also head of postgraduate psychotherapy studies at the university's School of Psychotherapy. "I have never seen Haifa like this, it looks like it did in the 1950s with hardly any people around. Everything is closed. People are really stressed out from the sirens, even more than they were during the Gulf War or during the series of suicide attacks." However, she continued, "In Kiryat Shmona, they have been holding up against this sort of bombardment for many, many years. They have got used to living under the fire of Katyusha rockets. The fact that they continue on with their lives shows what kind of resilience human beings are capable of." Yahav has set up a 24-hour hotline offering Haifa residents and those in the surrounding areas an outlet to express their fears and talk about their anxieties. Yahav described how she spent the first few days of this current crisis helping to get her family, including her 80-year-old mother, settled. She then set to work connecting the hotline so expert counselors, including psychologists, social workers, art therapists and other trained staff from the center, could field the public's calls from the safety of their homes. "Yesterday the hotline had more than 40 calls on one day," said Yahav adding that it offers counseling in a variety of languages including Russian, Arabic, English and Amharic. Support will be given to those in the community experiencing emotional distress, anxiety, fear, depression, post traumatic stress syndrome and problems that may arise with children during these difficult days, she said. Yahav also said the hotline will be able to put those in need of help in touch with the correct volunteer organizations and government authorities. Prosper Azran, former mayor of Kiryat Shmona, told the Post that, after 14 years as mayor of Israel's most bombarded city, he was well aware of people's resilience to on-going attacks. "What is happening now in Kiryat Shmona is not so different to what has happened here many times before," said Azran. "Kiryat Shmona has gone through much harder times. There were days when more than 120 rockets fell on the city, that is more than during the Blitz of London." "A person is able to put up with everything if he has to," he continued. "The question is whether we have a choice and the people of Kiryat Shmona do not have a choice." Asked how individuals are expected to cope under such pressure, Azran replied: "People handle this in their own way. My mother who is over 80, for example, goes down to the bomb shelter way before everyone else and comes up two days after everyone else. But if that is what makes her feel happy then that's okay, maybe it explains how she's managed to stay sane in this town for so long." Yahav agreed: "People have to know that they should do what is good for them, even if that means leaving the city or going out to work as usual. If it makes them feel good, that is what counts." "People are not used to being stuck at home and talking to each other. We are used to going out and about all the time," continued Yahav. "I advise people to take this opportunity to do all the things they've been wanting to do at home, to take advantage of the situation to sit and talk with family members, to be with their children or even learn to be alone and not be scared." As for giving advice to her own very stressed out husband, Yahav said: "I am with him when he needs me but he has hardly been home since this crisis started." The Haifa hotline can be reached at (04) 828-8622/3. The Ministry of Social Welfare is also running a guidance hotline, which can be reached on 118.