September 20, 2023 — Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers Shahaf Leshem, Dr. Eldad Kahe, and Prof. Eyal Kalanthroff of Hebrew University’s Department of Psychology, unveiled significant findings regarding the lasting psychological impacts stemming from the 2014 Israel-Gaza military conflict. The study sheds light on the deep repercussions of trauma for both war veterans and their parents. Notably, veterans directly involved in the conflict exhibited nearly twice the level of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms compared to indirectly active veterans, a difference persisting even five years after the conflict. Remarkably, parents of active veterans experienced heightened secondary traumatic stress, irrespective of their knowledge about their children’s whereabouts during the war. Mothers bore a greater burden of secondary traumatic stress (STS) than fathers, while a striking correlation emerged between veterans’ PTSD and fathers’ secondary traumatic stress, reflecting a profound emotional bond and shared ordeal. 

STS has traditionally been explored in therapists, spouses, and children of traumatized individuals. However, the study is among the first to investigate the correlation between children’s PTSD symptoms and their parents’ mental health outcomes. In particular, the study examines the long-term STS symptoms experienced by parents of war veterans – an area that has remained largely unexplored until now. 

The research focuses on veterans of the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, comparing PTSD symptoms among directly active war veterans (DAV) and indirectly active war veterans (IAV) who were in combat military units but did not actively participate in the conflict. This distinction allowed for a natural experiment condition that sheds light on the psychological impact of direct involvement in the war. 

The study provides critical insights into the long-term mental health outcomes of war veterans and their parents, shedding light on the often-overlooked effects of traumatic events. These findings underscore the necessity of comprehensive support systems for both veterans and their families, emphasizing the interconnectedness of their psychological well-being. 

The researchers’ work holds significant implications for understanding trauma transmission within families, offering a platform for further research and interventions aimed at addressing the psychological needs of war veterans and their loved ones. 

The full research paper, “Post-traumatic stress in war veterans and secondary traumatic stress among parents of war veterans five years after the 2014 Israel-Gaza military conflict,” has been published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology