Lebanese Villagers Cope with Post-War Stress

Lebanese mothers and children are suffering lingering effects from a month of Israeli bombardments during the recent war between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israel. A child psychiatrist says it has been difficult for some villagers to re-adjust to post-war life.

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The trouble with stress does not end at the border between Israel and Lebanon. NPR's Jaime Tarabay reports from Beirut.

JAIME TARABAY: Sharene Sryrufiam(ph) is a large woman who smokes cigarette after cigarette with her morning coffee as she sits in the courtyard of her apartment building in the hills above Beirut. She lives in an area that was untouched during the war, but her husband is in the army, and he was constantly in her thoughts.

Ms. SHARENE SRYRUFIAM (Lebanon Resident): (Through translator) I had panic attacks and lost consciousness several times, and I was afraid for my children. People were scared we'd run out of food. There'd be no more milk. What will I do with my children? Every time I saw the television and saw children dying I'd have an attack. When I'd hear the sound of a plane, even though I know it's far away, I'd faint.

TARABAY: Her doctor says she suffered heart tremors, anxiety, and nervousness, and he prescribed four different kinds of pills, which she takes several times a day. She stopped watching television, and people have stopped telling her the latest news.

Ms. SRYRUFIAM: (Through translator) The doctor says it's all stress from the war. He said I have to get it all out of my head.

TARABAY: She's not the only one. Doctors at psychiatric clinics say calls to their help hotlines have doubled in the last four weeks, as more and more people sought help.

Dr. LYNNE JONES (Psychiatrist, International Medical Corps): My name is Dr. Lynn Jones. (Unintelligible).

TARABAY: Dr. Lynne Jones works for International Medical Corps, a private, non- profit, welfare organization. She's a child psychiatrist, and she's come to the south of Lebanon to teach locals how to help children readjust to life after war. Here in the bombed village of Khiam, she's meeting with a group of volunteers.

Dr. JONES: What changes, any of you (unintelligible) at the moment, what are you seeing in children right now that's different from before the war?

Unidentified Woman #2: Okay, (unintelligible). They always talk about war and about, always talk about war and play about war, and make, and they draw about war.

TARABAY: Jones has written about children coping in the aftermath of war in Kosovo, and she's also treated victims of the violence in northern Uganda. She says the most important thing that will help children get over the experience of war is to provide them with a safe place to play, and surround them with people who love them.

Dr. JONES: Yesterday I sat with a group of 20 children in another village, and everyone, every one of those children, is still having some difficulty sleeping. The majority of them still feel a little bit jumpy when they hear a loud boom. Some of them are still having nightmares at night.

And I would expect, if the situation remains secure, those children who are with families that are well and they were previously well before the war, for those symptoms to diminish pretty rapidly over the next two or three months.

TARABAY: But Jones says about 10 percent will have enduring psychological problems.

One of those may be seven-year-old Johnna(ph). Her family fled Khiam soon after the war started. Now they're back living among the ruins, and Johnna is obsessed with cleaning.

JOHNNA (Seven Years Old): (Through translator) All the glass was broken, and there was dirt everywhere. I went home and I began sweeping the floor. I couldn't help. I wanted to work and work. I was sweeping. I needed to sweep.

TARABAY: Johnna's eleven-year-old cousin Kareem(ph) says that whenever he hears a plane in the sky his belly drops and his heart starts to beat just a little bit faster.

KAREEM (Eleven Years Old): (Through translator) When I hear a plane in the sky, I think it's going to bomb. I get scared. My heart starts to beat faster, like, boom-boom.

TARABAY: Kareem says during the first few days of the war he would shake all night, unable to sleep. He says he's still jumpy. He stays close to his mother now and hardly ever plays outside.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Beirut.

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