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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The pain doesn't show and doesn't go away

This was in last Friday's JPost magazine, and I have been looking for it to post ever since.

For those who think that now that things have reached a relative calm (which may or may not last), there are no more terror victims, please think again. Unfortunately, being a terror victim lasts a lifetime. Here's what one group is doing about it:

Daniel, 13, was having trouble sleeping. He began acting out in school and couldn't concentrate in class. Eventually, he started skipping school entirely.

His family was bewildered. What had happened to their high-achieving son? After much loving, yet assertive pressure, Daniel finally confided in his older sister.

A year earlier, he told his sister, instead of being at his friend's house studying for a big test, as he had told his parents, he skipped out and went to the park to play soccer. Daniel knew he would ace the test. He also decided it wasn't terrible to nudge the truth.

As Daniel's bus slowly negotiated a narrow Jerusalem street, another bus - three car lengths in front - suddenly exploded. Traffic stopped. Daniel, shaken, left his seat and walked out to the smoking pavement.

He told his sister he didn't know what compelled him. Perhaps he thought he could help someone or perhaps it was macabre curiosity. He climbed aboard the burnt out bus.

Daniel passed by the bloody and lifeless body of the driver. Slowly, he moved through the carnage-filled wreck. Did he stay 10 minutes or 10 seconds? Time had disappeared.

Afraid of punishment for disobeying his parents and lying, Daniel never told anyone he had been at the scene of a terrorist attack. A silent witness to the grisly murders, Daniel developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He suffered from nightmares and frightening thoughts. He jumped at sudden sounds or movements. While not physically wounded, he carried a horrible burden and was in need of professional help.

To get help for her brother, Daniel's sister had been referred to Kids For Kids (K4K), a youth organization that supports the recovery of young victims of terrorism, and soon Daniel was receiving help there, too.

K4K does not provide assistance only to the direct victims of attack. Their services include kids like Daniel, to whom they refer as kids who "fall between the stretchers."

These are children who have not been physically wounded, yet who experience psychological scarring and suffer from what is often referred to as secondary PTSD.

According to Dr. Danny Brom, director of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psycho-Trauma at Herzog Hospital, "For each victim of an attack, 100 others involved with that victim are affected and are candidates for trauma treatment." Dr. Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, director of the center's Child and Adolescent Clinical Services, has conducted extensive research concerning secondary PTSD among the general population. Her study of incidents, dating from the onset of the current wave of terrorism, found that fully 70 percent of those surveyed revealed an increase in subjective fear and a sense of hopelessness and horror.

"Fifty percent [of those surveyed] were personally or indirectly impacted by a terror attack, either being at the scene of an attack or knowing someone who was injured or killed in an attack," says Brom. "Being a small country is an enormous factor in this regard."

Meanwhile, 22% had had indirect contact with terrorism. This could be missing a bomb by minutes or realizing that a change in plans would have brought someone to the center of an attack.

"An alarming 15% of those surveyed were displaying partial or full symptoms of PTSD, requiring professional counseling," says Brom.

He adds that while people think there is less terrorism now, trauma from previous attacks can linger for years if it goes untreated.

The general public has a changing reaction to trauma produced by terrorism. "When bombs go off, people are interested," says Brom. "But when it's quiet most people don't want to know about it. You see at this moment that people are losing interest.

Don't you lose interest. Read the whole thing.


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