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Mental health in Israel: One in three may suffer post-trauma disorders

About 30% of the population may develop post-trauma disorders in the next few months.

Israel is confronting the most severe mental trauma wave since its founding, according to psychiatry experts. The mental health system is already inundated with unresolved requests for help. Waiting lists stretch for months, and health maintenance organizations (HMO) have been struggling to manage the escalating number of mental health cases, a volume never before encountered.

For years, the Israeli mental health system has been inadequate: Lengthy waiting times, particularly in peripheral areas, have been a testament to the neglect faced by those dealing with mental health challenges. Since the October 7 massacre, the public health system has been overwhelmed by a deluge of distress calls, anticipated to reach enormous proportions.

Psychiatry experts have recently predicted that one in three people who have been affected directly or indirectly by the war—including families and friends of the kidnapped, injured victims, or those who have lost loved ones—might develop post-trauma disorders in the coming months. ERAN’s distress hotlines are already dealing with over 100,000 calls, unprecedented since the center’s inception.

Increased mental health inquiries
HMOs, too, have been witnessing a substantial increase in mental health inquiries.

For instance, Clalit Health Services reported a 25% increase in psychiatric drug usage, a 52% rise in anxiety-related cases, and a 45% surge in post-trauma diagnoses.

Asked if Clalit Health Services has initiated an expansion of the mental health system, focusing primarily on the periphery where waiting times are longer, a representative of the HMO responded, “Clalit is integrating therapists into mental health and reintroducing them to the public system. Moreover, Clalit has launched Israel’s first resilience coach training program. The initiative aims to increase the number of professionals capable of providing mental health support. The program caters to individuals with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and social work, psychology interns, clinical year medical students, and expressive and creative therapists without prior mental health experience. It trains professionals to help manage reactive emotional distress.

“The resilience coaches will offer symptom-focused support and acquire skills in prevention and referral for mental health treatment when necessary. Clalit offers participants immediate integration into its mental health system, from the first day of training, with part-time to full-time roles. The training, led by top experts from Clalit’s medical center, is part of the ‘Nefesh Amit’ program, spearheaded by Clalit’s mental health center,” a spokesperson for Clalit said.

Eli Cohen, CEO of Clalit, added, “As Israel’s largest HMO, serving over 50% of the country’s population, most of those displaced by the situation in the North and South are our patients. Given the growing number of mental health inquiries, we are taking proactive and rapid measures. This initiative, supported by the best professional standards, will swiftly and effectively expand our response to the current and future challenges.”

Shlomo Mendlovic, the director of the Shalvata Mental Health Center, affiliated with Clalit, added, “Our newly developed program trains resilience coaches who enable many to cope using simple, accessible methods, under professional and supportive guidance, with various mental symptoms and distresses. The program’s uniqueness, shaped in line with global models, is that it doesn’t just offer treatment in the conventional sense, but rather helps those in mental distress to unearth their inherent healing and recovery powers.”

When Mendlovic was asked about the implications for a patient unable to receive timely mental health treatment due to long wait times, he explained, “Efforts are underway to address urgent acute cases. Every doctor exercises medical discretion to prioritize urgent cases, referring them to Clalit’s clinics or its unique service tracks available both traditionally and online.”

According to Mendlovic, the services include several new initiatives. One is crisis intervention teams for youth: Online treatment for children and adolescents in crisis requiring swift and professional intervention. Clalit underscores the importance of prompt intervention in children’s new crises.

Another initiative is Crisis Intervention, a novel service route offering short, focused online interventions to minimize unnecessary waiting times.

Sigal Sidlik Alon, Clalit’s national psychologist, emphasized, “The number of referrals to mental health services has surged in recent years. Prompt and focused intervention can prevent the evolution of severe and significant mental disorders later on. In crisis moments, especially among children, providing an immediate response when the problem starts can avert deterioration and exacerbate the situation. With parental support, it’s crucial to harness the children’s strengths and capacity to overcome and deal with the situation. Immediate and quick response is pivotal for a relatively speedy return to normalcy.” According to Clalit, the service is operated by professional treatment teams providing quick online responses to children and adolescents in crises. If behavioral or mood changes are observed, such as depression, withdrawal, anxiety, and avoidance of social activities, consulting with pediatricians about the “Crisis Intervention” service is advisable. The treatment will be offered online by psychologists, social workers, and child psychiatrists once or twice a week for 3-10 sessions.

Last month, Geha Mental Health Center, part of the Clalit group, opened a new, advanced trauma and crisis treatment center named “Olympia Center.”

The “Olympia” center for Trauma and Crisis comprises multidisciplinary teams, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, expressive and creative therapy therapists, and occupational therapists. They will provide an array of trauma-focused treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma-focused group therapy, and treatments integrating advanced technologies such as neurofeedback and virtual reality. The center prioritizes individuals displaced from the surrounding areas and the North and those who have experienced severe trauma. Geha’s director, Prof. Gil Zaltzman, noted, “The public has undergone significant and prolonged turmoil due to the severe events. We are witnessing a large number of victims, categorized into various circles of exposure and harm, underscoring the urgency for rapid therapeutic response. Past experiences teach us that most of those exposed will recover from acute stress reaction symptoms. Still, some may develop a chronic, long-term post-traumatic syndrome, preventable through rapid and professional intervention, which we will provide at the new center.”

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