Pandemic exposes mental health issues plaguing Israeli public

One of the many consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is how it has affected the mental health of many people who have spent weeks in lockdown, lost their jobs and faced other stressful situations that undermined their mental state.

The last two years have changed our perception of mental health, because if in the past it was customary to believe that only certain people suffered from these problems, it is now clearly understood that it is much more common, and the problems of mental health are something we all have to deal with.

Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who have reported to “Enosh” – the Israel Mental Health Association – that they have faced mental problems, and the numbers speak for themselves:

  • 21% increase in calls to mental health helplines

  • 15% increase in the number of people helped in community centers

  • 17% increase in the number of family members who received counseling

  • 27% increase in the number of adolescents and young people who contacted the Mental Health Association

This increase may be explained by the changes to our reality that the coronavirus has created, but it is also the result of increased public awareness of mental health.

The mere talk of mental health, the realization that a mental crisis can strike any of us, the acknowledgment of the problem by public opinion leaders in Israel and around the world, who have come out of the “closet of mental health” to reveal they or their family members are struggling with depression and anxiety, has gone a long way in lifting the stigma of this once sensitive topic.

Over the years, Enosh has focused on developing rehabilitation and holistic services in the community, touching various aspects of life (employment, housing, family, society and recreation). We have noticed how public awareness of mental health and the stigma that accompanies it has begun to change.

As a result, after realizing the importance of early intervention and the aspiration to perform subsequent therapeutic treatments, we expanded our mental support and early prevention services to provide alternatives to hospitalization. And we have done this by creating centers that help to find balance and give useful tools to face daily life: to care for adolescents and young people, to balance the alternatives to psychiatric hospitalization; create special programs for people who have had their first psychotic episode and others.

Studies have shown that early intervention and initial treatment reduce the risk of developing a mental illness and even the onset of a serious mental problem. Therefore, it is crucial to focus effort on promoting preventive psychological treatment for adolescents and developing additional services for them.

In a recent survey of adolescents and young people aged 25 to 16, half of the participants reported a deterioration in their emotional state over the past year. However, only 11% of them received therapy. And the rest? Considered going to therapy but ultimately didn’t – 45% because of the high cost and 23% because of the stigma attached.

Meanwhile, the increased demand for mental health services has left Israel’s mental health system overstretched, with long queues and lack of ability to provide proper help due to low government budgets.

There is also a lack of knowledge, information and general civic awareness regarding the options available to people with a mental crisis.

The COVID crisis has clearly shown that many improvements and changes are needed in the field of mental health in Israel. But doing so also requires investing significant economic resources to prevent future national mental health crises.

Dr. Hila Hadas is the Managing Director of “Enosh” – The Israel Mental Health Association

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