After family problems caused her stress and depression, Ibtisam Akieleh found support with a group of other Gazan women – and realised she was not alone. With this help, and her own willpower, Ibtisam was able to come off her medication.
Ibtisam, 45, lives in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. She is married with five children, one of whom died in 2003 during the Israeli invasion of Beit Hanoun.
Feeling isolated, Ibtisam’s mental health began to suffer. She said: “I suffered greatly in my life and was isolated from the outside world because I felt inferior inside. I felt everyone around me was contributing to the frustration I lived in.
“I felt my life was inanimate and confined to raising my children and taking care of my house. I convinced myself that life isn’t like this; that human beings are not livestock that only eat, drink and sleep. I decided to go out and break the chains than tie me up.”
Other women in the community told Ibtisam about the Ata’a society, a Palestinian charitable society that cares for women and children’s welfare, and targets women in Beit Hanoun.
Describing the turning point she experienced, Ibtisam said: “I was on psychiatry medication to relieve my stress and family problems. I used to be good student, but I turned into an introverted person who is unaware of the outside world.”
The centre offered Ibtisam psychiatric support and discussion sessions with other women. Answering a question about the real reason behind her introversion, Ibtisam said: “What drove me to the psychiatric illness was a lack of balance as well as the collapse in my life, especially after my husband brought in a second wife to share my life. This led to family problems.
“I thought I was the only woman that suffers from a dominant second wife, but found that a lot of women suffer from greater and multiple problems.”
“After I joined the centre, I witnessed a great difference in my personality. I acquired new self-esteem. The psychiatric medicine became unnecessary and I returned to being an ordinary human being. I knew what was wrong with me; it was simply that I needed to have contact with the outside world.”