24 October 2023, The Tablet

Archbishop warns of mental health consequences of conflict

Archbishop warns of mental health consequences of conflict

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, pictured in London last week with Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg (left) and Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra (right).

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has warned that events in Israel and Gaza will show itself in the future in children whose earliest memories will be of the pain of their wounds and the loss of siblings and parents.

He was speaking from Jerusalem to the Mind Matters Conference on mental health and mental well-being in Dublin where he was due to give the keynote address in person but, following the explosion at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza, which the Anglican church administers, he undertook a solidarity visit to the Middle East.

Addressing the conference from St George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem, Archbishop Welby said, “What we are seeing is a region coming under trauma.” That, he suggested, could leave a legacy of generational trauma. 

He told the conference that as he arrived an Israeli missile had hit an Orthodox church [the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City] where people had been sheltering.

“We think there's about 26 were killed and probably several more were wounded. They are being treated at the Anglican hospital.”

The Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, which was bombed last week leaving hundreds dead, has been supported financially by Church of Ireland parishioners of the Anglican dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin appealed to both sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict to “rediscover your humanity”.

Speaking to The Tablet, Archbishop Michael Jackson said it was tragic that people “in good faith and good hope went to a place of sanctuary, then found themselves in the frontline of whatever fire and from whoever”.

He appealed to the two sides in the Middle East to “be realistic about the fact that everybody has to turn and face one another at some time”.

Al-Ahli Hospital is located in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, in the northern region of the Gaza Strip. The 80-bed hospital was founded in 1882.

“While it is a hospital of Christian foundation, it is not in any way a hospital exclusive to Christian people,” Archbishop Jackson said and explained that care was offered by the hospital to “everybody who is in need”. 

In 2014, parishioners from the dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough fundraised over €100,000 for Al-Ahli Hospital which enabled it to install solar panels and other facilities.

In his address to the conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke about his own personal struggle with depression. He noted that the all-island Mind Matters research in Ireland had shown that 46 per cent of the 290 clergy surveyed felt not enough was being done to support their mental health.

He highlighted how the poverty, war and instability faced by people in the Global South contributes significantly to poor mental health while in the Global North “there is powerlessness, there is helplessness” in the face of the constant news about conflict in places like Ukraine and the Middle East and this contributed to poor mental health. 

“We are better off than we have ever been in the past, yet there is a much higher level of mental illness in the economically prosperous world than elsewhere particularly among young people.”

The “philosophical turn inwards towards the self” had “brought us to a place of radical individual autonomy and atomisation” and the breakdown in community life meant there was “no scaffolding” to hold us up or offer stability when things go wrong.

On the emotional toll which clergy often carry, Archbishop Welby said they were often “a lightening conductor for grief” at funerals and this was at a time when there was less stability and respect for the role.

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