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Fear

People with disabilities who were exposed to war and terror were twice as likely to develop post-traumatic symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study conducted at the University of Haifa, sponsored by Israel’s Social Security.

“This is the first time that stress responses as a result of war and terror have been examined in the context of people with disabilities, especially in those with physical or sensory disabilities,” said Dr. Carmit-Noa Shpigelman, the study’s author.

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“Today, too, we are in a period of emergency situations – in the north and in the south – characterized by uncertainty and without warning,” Dr. Shpigelman noted last week, explaining that “these situations are even more complex for people with disabilities, and therefore preparations are required both from the people themselves and from the community service providers.”

In many previous studies, negative mental effects have been identified as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and dysfunction, a a result of prolonged exposure to war and terror events. These studies referred to the entire population, including minority groups such as immigrants, members of the Arab society or patients in psychiatric hospitals. But the impact of war and terror on persons with disabilities living in the community was not examined.

In this latest study, Dr. Shpigelman and Prof. Mark Glakopf of the Department of Community Mental Health at the University of Haifa sought to examine the impact of war and terror on a population coping with physical or sensory disabilities (blindness or deafness).

The study included 438 subjects who completed questionnaires and were divided into three groups: persons with disabilities who have lived in Israel for the last ten years in a geographical area that was under a massive missile attack or many terrorist attacks; people without disabilities living in the same areas; and people with disabilities from other areas where there was no direct exposure to the security threat.

Close to one-third (28%) of people with disabilities who were exposed to war and terror were particularly at risk of developing post-traumatic symptoms, such as re-experiencing the traumatic event; avoiding conversations or thoughts about the event, as well as situations and people associated with the traumatic event; excessive wakefulness that may include constant alertness to danger; hypersensitivity to stimuli; excessive panic response; difficulty sleeping; psychological and physiological unrest; and negative cognition and mood.

That’s compared to 11% of people with disabilities who were not exposed to the same security threat, and 8% of people without disabilities who were exposed to the same security threat.

When the researchers examined symptoms of depression, they discovered there were no differences between people with disabilities who were exposed to war and terror events compared with people with disabilities who were not exposed to similar events. Both of these groups were at higher risk than people without disabilities.

According to the researchers, people with disabilities may experience symptoms of depression from the very existence of the health problem or other life events, such as environmental barriers that limit their participation in the community, and not directly as a result of war and terror, since there were no differences in levels of depression among the two groups of people with disabilities.

According to Dr. Shpigelman, the findings highlight a lack of diagnosis of stress responses among people with disabilities during an emergency. She added that sometimes professionals tend to associate the stressful responses they identify with a person’s chronic health problem – rather than with the security situation.

“This situation was created, among other reasons, because of a lack of awareness of the needs of this population by virtue of its being a marginalized group in society,” she said.

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