Home' Greymouth Star : October 6th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
hen Maha, a nine-
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, 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
“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 ser vices
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.
Maha, now 13, became very withdrawn
and suffered repeated nightmares. It was
only when her mother took her back to a
doctor for an injury that she was finally
referred to a specialist.
There are no figures for the prevalence
of mental health problems in Gaza, but
the World Health Organisation estimates
the proportion of people suffering mild
or moderate disorders rises to 15-20%
during a humanitarian emergency
compared to 10% outside a crisis.
Some experts say up to a third of the
population may be affected by mental
disorders after exposure to violence,
the death of loved ones and the loss of
homes, livelihoods and support networks.
WHO estimates the proportion of
people with severe mental disorders
including psychosis — which can cause
hallucinations or delusions — rises to
3-4% during a crisis up from a baseline
Hamad said families are loath to seek
mental health care services for sons as
well as daughters, but the reluctance is
more pronounced with a girl because of
the potential impact on her reputation.
“It’s a patriarchal community so women
are judged more harshly,” he said.
WHO mental health officer for Gaza,
Dyaa Saymah, said part of the reason
girls with mental health disorders
face particular stigma is due to the
misconception that mental problems are
“People believe when a mother with a
mental health illness gives birth she may
pass this on to her baby. This is why they
are afraid of getting married to a girl who
has developed some sort of problem,”
Beliefs that mental health problems
are hereditary — although there can be
genetic links they are only one factor —
mean families in Gaza may even hide
away a relative with a psychotic disorder
like schizophrenia to protect their
Experts say the protracted conflict in
Gaza has triggered acute levels of psycho-
social distress, especially among children
and adolescents who make up nearly half
the territory’s 1.8 million inhabitants.
Many are emotionally shattered after
living through three wars in the past
seven years, the last one being the most
Fighting between Israel and Palestinian
militant groups killed more than 2100
Palestinians during a 50-day war and
caused massive destruction to homes and
schools in the small coastal strip.
The United Nations estimated that
373,000 children required specialised
Day-to-day suffering has been
compounded by a blockade — imposed
by Israel in 2007 after Hamas won
elections — which has exacerbated
unemployment, poverty and levels of
Hamad said it was often harder for girls
in Gaza to deal with traumatic experiences
than boys because of cultural factors
including severe restrictions on their
movement which leave them far more
Boys can spend time with friends in the
streets and play sport, but girls do not have
similar outlets or opportunities to socialise,
Hamad said mass displacement to
overcrowded mixed shelters during last
year’s conflict had been particularly
stressful for adolescent girls because of the
lack of privacy and sanitation.
Girls in shelters had to remain veiled
at all times despite it being the height of
summer, and many developed bladder-
related problems because of a lack of
But mental health experts say there have
been positive developments in Gaza. In
particular, mental health ser vices are being
integrated into all primary health care
centres across the territory which will help
reduce the problem of people avoiding
such ser vices. In addition, counselling is
provided across Gaza’s schools.
Hamad said the widespread suffering in
last year’s war has also helped reduce the
stigma. “ Mental health is no longer just
the problem of one person, it ’s now the
problem of everyone,” he said.
4 - Tuesday, October 6, 2015
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uLetters to the editor
1470 - King Henry VI is released from Tower
1892 - Death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
English poet and Poet Laureate from 1850.
1927 - The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson,
opens in New York: it is the first full-
length feature film to include spoken
1939 - In an address to the
Reichstag, Adolf Hitler denies any
intention of war against France and
1949 - “ Tokyo Rose” (Mrs Iva
Toguri D’Aquino), who broadcast
Japanese propaganda to US forces in the Pacific
during World War Two, is sentenced to 10 years’
jail and fined $10,000 on treason charges.
1951 - British High Commissioner in Malaya,
Sir Henry Gurney, is assassinated by communist
1989 - Actress Bette Davis dies, aged 81.
1991 - Elizabeth Taylor weds for the eighth
time, to truck driver Larry Fortensky.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Louis Philippe, king of France (1773-
1850); George Westinghouse, US inventor
(1846-1914); Carole Lombard, US
actress (1908-1942); Hafez Assad, Syrian
president (1930-2000); Richie
Benaud, Australian cricketer and
commentator (1930-2015); Britt
Ekland, Swedish actress (1942-);
Tony Greig, South African-born
English cricketer (1946-2012);
Gerry Adams, Irish politician
(1948-); Kevin Cronin, US singer
of REO Speedwagon (1951-); Ricky Hatton,
English boxer (1978-) .
“ Every ambitious man is a captive, and every
covetous one, a pauper. ” — Arab proverb.
“ Just then there was in their synagogue a man
with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “ What
have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have You come to destroy us? I know who You
are, the Holy One of God.” — (Mark 1:23-24).
consisting of ballet,
song and dance was
well received in the
Coxon Hall last night. The concert, staged by
Mrs Helen Smith of Runanga, in aid of the
Arts Queen, was of a high standard.
Those giving items were Sharon Kaye, Ursula
White, Alison Bell, Ray Smith, Heather Fagan,
Helen Blanchfield, Raylene Nuttall, Michelle
Dixon, Aileen Williamson and Judith Pinn.
Supporting artists were Ron McDougall, Janet
Haddock, Aileen Williamson, Patricia Low,
Georgina Webster and Bill Wick, and all were
Mrs Audrey Murly was pianist for the
dancing items and Miss Webster for the
solos. Mr Jack Flood compered the evening’s
The Post Office Savings Bank is making
every effort to encourage young people to save
from an early age. This being savings week, the
savings branch of the Greymouth Post Office
to mark the occasion will be presenting every
baby born in the Grey district with a Post
Office savings book.
The scheme which began yesterday will
continue through to Friday. Today one mother
was the recipient of two books. She had twins.
Dressed in a smartly cut, old gold coloured
cape of fine textured wool with black
accessories, Denise Hickling, of Greymouth,
featured in a recent women’s magazine in the
“most fashion-conscious women” section. Every
month a girl is chosen from different centres as
a subject for the article.
“ Denise said she felt that personal grooming
at work was as important as on those special
nights out,” the article said.
uFood for thought
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“ We would have
preferred a referendum
like in Quebec and
Scotland but the only
course left to us was to
organise these elections,”
Artur Mas, president of
the regional government
of Catalonia, said. So,
he said, the election that
was held recently in
Spain’s richest province should be seen as
a referendum on independence — and he
It was not a big win: the pro-
independence parties needed 68 seats
for a majority in the 135-seat regional
parliament, and they got 72. But it
was a win nevertheless, and Mas says
he will unilaterally declare Catalonia
independent in the next 18 months on
the strength of this vote.
Catalonia could certainly make it as
an independent country. It is about the
same size as Switzerland, with about the
same population (7.5 million). But there
is doubt about whether Spain would
agree to a friendly divorce — and even
greater doubt about whether a majority
of Catalonia’s voters would actually vote
“yes” if there were a real referendum on
As in most places, the rural
constituencies in Catalonia contain fewer
voters than the urban ones, and it is in
the rural parts of Catalonia that the
support for independence is strongest.
The pro-independence parties got a
majority of the seats, but they only won
48.7% of the votes.
Mas’s parliamentary majority is
therefore a flimsy basis for such a
momentous decision as breaking up
Spain, but he is going ahead anyway.
He says that he will immediately
start building the institutions of an
independent state — a diplomatic ser vice,
central bank, tax authority and armed
forces — and declare independence
unilaterally 18 months from now.
This will create a serious confrontation
with Madrid in much less than 18
months, because creating such separate
institutions is against Spanish law. But
Mas argues that he had no choice but to
go ahead without a referendum, since the
Spanish government refuses to authorise
a referendum on the grounds that the
constitution does not allow regions to
make unilateral decisions on sovereignty.
What Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
offers instead is a referendum in which
the entire country would vote on Catalan
independence. He defends this peculiar
procedure on the grounds that Catalonia’s
separation would affect the whole of
Spain, since it accounts for 16% of the
population and a fifth of the economy.
Naturally, this option has no appeal
to the separatist leaders, but Madrid’s
intransigence does give them an excuse
to proceed without a referendum that
they might well lose. Indeed, they would
have lost it at most times in the recent
past, although support for independence
fluctuates with time; it was below 40% in
2010, rose to the low 50s in 2012-13, and
is back down to the low 40s in the most
Nor can the separatists assume that
it is back up to almost 50% on the
evidence of the vote. Most of the pro-
independence parties are on the left, and
some traditional left-wing voters would
have supported them without necessarily
The arguments for independence,
pro or con, are often cast in terms of
the economy, but it is very unlikely
that an independent Catalonia would
experience either an economic disaster
or an economic bonanza. Independence
is basically an emotional issue, not
an economic one — and for Catalan
nationalists, the emotions are very strong.
An example. The last time I was in
Barcelona I was told the same story by
different people on the independence
side of the question on three separate
occasions. A Spanish cabinet minister,
they claimed, had said that “Barcelona
has to be bombarded at least every
50 years” in order to keep Catalans
under control. How can we be asked
to live in the same country as such
So I checked it out, and it was true.
The man who said it was one General
Espartero, and he was actually the head
of the Spanish government at the time.
The only problem is that he said it in
the early 1840s, after the end of the first
Carlist civil war. Not really very relevant
to the present, then, but the emotions
linger on. It is likely that a majority of
people of Catalan descent would still vote
for independence today.
The problem is that ethnic Catalans
are barely half the population.
Catalonia’s relative prosperity attracted
huge numbers of Spanish immigrants
in the latter half of the 20th century,
and 46% of the people in Catalonia now
speak Spanish as their first language
(although 96% claim to speak both
It is very hard to win an independence
referendum when almost half the
population does not share the emotions
that drive the cause, so the separatists’
best hope is to go for independence
without one. That is going to make
things very messy in Catalonia, and even
violence is not to be excluded.
Nor is the forthcoming national election
in Spain likely to change Madrid’s fierce
resistance to Catalan independence;
all the major Spanish parties oppose
it, although the new Podemos Party at
least supports Catalonia’s right to hold a
referendum on it. But then, that may just
be tactical thinking. Letting Artur Mas
hold a referendum would not necessarily
be doing him a favour.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent
journalist whose articles are published in
WORLD IN FOCUS
with Gwynne Dyer
Catalonia votes for independence (maybe)
Catalan president Artur Mas addresses Junts Pel Si (Together for Yes) supporters after polls closed.
Mental health stigma
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