My battle with my mental health: A personal account from Gaza

29-year-old Seif lives in Bait Lahia, in the north of Gaza, with his mother, brother and four sisters. In this open and honest account, he shares his battle with mental illness and how support from Friends for Mental Health (FFMH), one of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s partners in Gaza, has turned his life around.

Since my father died in 2017, my whole family has depended on cash assistance from the Ministry of Social Development to cover their daily basic needs. This is very common in Gaza, where 1.3 million people, out of a population of around two million, rely on humanitarian assistance, a crisis largely caused by Israel’s blockade of Gaza which stretches back to when I was 14-years-old.

To make matters worse for me, I suffered from keratoconus in both my eyes, causing poor vision. I had implanted lens surgery and needed constant follow-up and eyedrops, which increased the burden on my mother.

I had suicidal thoughts, and suffered from fear and a lack of self-confidence since childhood. I was bullied and harassed at school, and was subjected to violence by my cousins. The dire situation in Gaza and lack of opportunities also made me suffer from depression and anxiety. In 2017, I registered with Abu Shbak clinic and was prescribed antidepressants.

In March 2019, I became aware of the work of FFMH, who partner with MAP, which offers mental health and psychosocial support to people in Gaza. I met the case manager at FFMH and was then referred to a psychiatrist for a therapeutic consultation concerning the tension, anxiety, and significant sleep disturbances I had been experiencing.

FFMH developed a treatment plan, with the guidance of the doctor, and I was given individual therapy sessions, using cognitive-behavioural methods; group awareness sessions; the opportunity to participate in recreational activities; and family counselling which included my mother.

After immense collaborative efforts and support from FFMH, I was nominated for their income generation training, which helps people with mental health illness and their families to create and manage small businesses to meet their basic needs.

“I write this to let my voice be heard and to encourage more people to seek mental health and psychosocial support.”

I proposed a coffee business and received a grant to open a small coffee shop. This project was a big step in my life. I became financially independent and supported my mother in covering the family’s needs, which gave me hope and inspired me to achieve more.

This success encouraged me to apply to be on the project’s steering committee, which involves following up with other people’s projects and considering their feedback. I was so happy to be accepted after an interview conducted by MAP and FFMH staff.

I will never forget that time when I recently met my social worker and she asked: “What happened to you? You were shy, isolated, and anti-social, but now you look like another person! What a change!”

My neighbours’ way of dealing with me has also changed. In the past, they used to humiliate and ignore me, but now they respect and appreciate me, and some have become my friends. They realised the change in my personality and how I am supporting my family. Helping my mother and contributing to my family’s expenses makes me more satisfied and confident. All these changes make me keen to provide more support.

My mother has inspired me to achieve more, as she witnessed my success in managing and developing my coffee shop despite two major challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic and Israel’s military offensive in May 2021. I have so many ideas in mind for future development of the business.

I write this to let my voice be heard and to encourage more people to seek mental health and psychosocial support. I was reborn when I joined this project and I would like to thank all the people behind this magnificent work. You are stars lighting our pathway.

Finally, I’ll end with a comment to challenge the stigma around mental health and the discrimination that mental health service users face. If a person is suffering from mental health issues, do they not deserve to work or live a decent life? Let my achievements speak for themselves.

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