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We are a group of persons with mental health problems who are working with researchers from King’s College London in the UK and Birzeit University in Palestine with the support of the Palestinian Counselling Centre to raise awareness about the challenges we are facing. We like to call ourselves a group of mentally ill friends. We are three women and nine men of the ages between mid-20s to early 70s.

To raise awareness about what it means for people like us to live and participate in the community, we wrote an illustrated storybook where we reflect on important and sometimes painful topics like:

  • the meaning of community
  • who we were before and after the onset of our illness
  • the availability and effects of medication
  • how to live the lives we value
  • equal treatment in society
  • our right to work

We invite you all to get to know us, hoping that you will change your attitude towards us and give us the respect, opportunities and support we need.

Palestinian Counselling Center

The Azzoun Rehabilitation Center was established in 2006 by the Palestinian Counselling Center (PCC) as a contribution to the Palestinian MoH’s national plan of deinstitutionalizing mental health by replacing inpatient psychiatric hospitals with community health centers.

Since the Qalqilya area was not included in the MoH’s planning and the city itself was cut off due to the Israeli blockade as a result of the second Intifada, the center was opened in the town of Azzoun in the Qalqilya governorate. The Azzoun Center is one of the few remaining daytime community centers that are functioning until this day.
The Center aimed to provide a safe space for individuals with chronic psychotic illnesses, in which they are treated with dignity and respect and where they feel at home. This was even incorporated in the design of the building which included showers, a kitchen and personal lockers to store belongings.

Over the years, the PCC has worked with over 100 patients and over 500 of their family members directly. After several years of marginalization and neglect, the patients were encouraged to maintain a self-care routine and participate in taking care of the Center through cooking together, cleaning and gardening. The patients were also provided with occasional paid work opportunities in sheltered places through various short-term projects.

Initially, the Center had a psychiatric doctor and nurse as well as occupational therapists and would host the patients for the majority of the week but the staff has since been reduced to a psychosocial counselor, due to limited resources.

The current Azzoun group who co-authored this book have been coming to the center for several years and currently attend once a week to engage in social and life building skills activities and most recently in the participatory research that produced the stories in the book. We hope that the experiences and needs they have voiced in this book will encourage policymakers to pay attention to individuals with chronic psychiatric illnesses and support rehabilitation and reintegration efforts. We welcome and appreciate any donations from individuals or institutions.

Contact information:

Tel: 00972 (2) 2989788
Instagram: Palestinian_counseling_center
Facebook: Palestinian Counseling Center

Academic Researchers

Suzan Mitwalli is an academic researcher at the Institute of Community and Public Health- Birzeit University and assistant coordinator of the Master’s program in Community and Public Health (MPH). Suzan’s main research interest is mental health, and she has worked for many years on an intervention research with the Community-Based Rehabilitation organization (CBR). She has also been involved in several research projects at the Institute including women’s health, population health, child health, and occupational health using quantitative and qualitative research methods. Her current research interest is participatory research with people with mental health issues.

Hanna Kienzler is an Associate Professor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London. As an anthropologist, with a long-standing interest in the field of global health, Hanna investigates how systemic violence, ethnic conflict and complex emergencies intersect with health and mental health outcomes. She conducts ethnographic research on the impact of war and trauma on women in Kosovo; participatory action research on what it means for persons with mental health problems to live and participate in their respective communities in Palestine; and on humanitarian and mental health interventions in fragile states.

Yoke Rabaia is an academic researcher at the Institute of Community and Public Health – Birzeit University. Her main field is psychosocial health of populations in contexts of military occupation and human insecurity, with a specific interest in community-based interventions. Besides her work in Palestine, Yoke has also conducted qualitative field research with local researchers in Benghazi, Libya, and Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. She strongly believes that participatory action research is crucial in order to understand and work towards better social conditions for people who are stigmatized or looked down upon by others in society.

This project is part of a larger research programme called “Mental Health and Justice” with funding from Wellcome Trust and King’s Impact Acceleration Award.