World Bank: Over half of Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza suffer from depression

Conflict and unemployment are heavily impacting mental health, organization says; calls for a ‘holistic’ solution

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

A Palestinian man sits on the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on June 15, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP / File)
A Palestinian man sits on the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on June 15, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP / File)

A study published by the World Bank on Friday reveals that over half of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza show symptoms of depression.

The study, presented in Ramallah in March, indicates that 50 percent of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and 71% of Gazans (58% of all Palestinians in the territories) exhibit symptoms consistent with depression. In addition, 7% of Palestinian adults screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The study attributes the conditions to “overlapping vulnerabilities and cumulative traumas on the Palestinian population,” due to “decades of exposure to conflict, restrictions on movements, and poor living conditions,” particularly for the Gazans.

The data for the study, called “Palestinian Psychological Conditions Survey (PPCS)” was collected from 5,876 respondents over the course of 2022.

The study shows that while depression, anxiety and PTSD are directly linked to traumatic events — 65% of Gazans and 35% of West Bankers said they had been exposed to a traumatic event in the preceding 12 months — they are also correlated with economic deprivation and “loss of sense of agency” due to high unemployment.

At the end of 2022 the average unemployment rate for Palestinians as a whole was 24%, with a stark disparity between the West Bank (13%) and Gaza (45%). Youth unemployment was particularly high in the strip, at nearly 70%.

Carpenters work in a shop in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 30, 2023, ahead of the International Workers’ (Labor) Day. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The data showed a clear correlation between unemployment and risk of depression, and between food insecurity and psychological distress, according to the researchers. It also indicated that people with a comorbidity, such as a chronic illness (19% of respondents) or a disability (2% of respondents) had higher levels of depression symptoms and PTSD symptoms.

The report suggested that the Palestinian mental health crisis should be tackled with a “holistic approach,” aimed at “reinforcing human capital” by combining financial aid with psychosocial services, youth employment and cognitive behavioral therapy, and targeting specific sub-groups that are more vulnerable.

The study was carried out by the World Bank in collaboration with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), and the German nonprofits “International Security and Development Center” (ISDC) and “Zentrum Überleben.”

A more in-depth assessment of how mental health factors impact productivity and economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza is scheduled to be published in early 2024.

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