Only Half of Children in North Suffering PTS Will Be Treated

5% of schoolchildren in northern Israel have post-traumatic stress from Lebanon war; another 15% have 'mild' symptoms.

The Education Ministry's psychological service said Tuesday that only about half the schoolchildren in northern Israel identified as suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) as a result of the war in the summer would receive treatment.

About 5 percent of the schoolchildren in northern Israel are showing signs of PTS following the war. An additional 15 percent, approximately, are suffering "mild" symptoms, like difficulty in concentrating or in meeting scholastic demands, or prolonged absences from school.

"We will reach and identify almost all the children. But in our experience, the number of children who will come in for treatment is between 30 and 50 percent," Hannah Friedman, chief psychologist at the service, told Haaretz on Tuesday.

The children who are suffering the most severe symptoms are more likely to be treated than those with less severe manifestations.

Friedman said PTS is likely to appear as significant difficulty in concentrating and in daily functioning, and as anxiety and "invasive thoughts" that make it difficult for children to control their thought processes.

The milder manifestations include the inability to meet basic requirements of school like homework, and "latent drop-out" syndrome - long absences from school. Other symptoms include insomnia, bed-wetting, separation anxiety and eating disorders.

Friedman said that among the reasons for the low rate of treatment was the stigma attached to psychological counseling, and the inability of families to persevere with treatment, which is provided after school hours at a mental health clinic. "Feelings such as shame, that the family was unable to deal alone with the crises, or the believe that the trouble will pass on its own," also play a part, Friedman said. These issues are especially salient with younger children, principally because of concern the child would be pegged as needing special help, she added.

There are two additional factors contributing to the low numbers of children being treated for PTS. The first is when the symptoms do not manifest during school hours, but rather only at home (such as bed-wetting), and the second is a lack of educational psychologists, especially in the Arab sector, despite additional positions that have been added.

The Education Ministry has initiated intervention programs, including support groups for students in the schools, individual treatment sessions, if these are requested by parents, and group work with kindergarten children. Some of the programs are to be expanded significantly in the near future.