A third of all suicides in Israel committed by olim
Between 2000 and 2013, 4,806 people in Israel committed suicide. A worrying new report presented to the Knesset's Immigration and Absorption Committee reveals a third of those are immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
A third of suicides in Israel between 2000 and 2013 were committed by olim – immigrants who have come to Israel under the Law of Return. The worrying statistics have been revealed in a new report put together by the Knesset Research and Information Center.
The report was presented to the Knesset Committee for Immigration and Absorption on Wednesday, in the wake of the mental health reforms that came into effect on July 1.
The committee meeting at which the report was presented was held to discuss the expected harm to mental health treatment for olim and their dependents as a result of the new reforms, as well as the strike by psychologists and social workers in public health clinics and mental health institutions that started this week.
The statistics show that around a quarter of suicides in the period from 2000 to 2013 were committed by olim from the former Soviet Union who arrived in Israel in the 1990s. Between three and eight percent were olim from Ethiopia who started arriving in the 1980s.
A total of 4,806 suicides were registered in Israel between 2000 and 2013, 1,658 – or 34.5 percent - of whom were olim aged 15 and over.
The statistics also showed that among olim who committed suicide, 77.9 percent were immigrants from the former Soviet Union and 16.6 percent were immigrants from Ethiopia.
In 2013, 117 olim committed suicide, comprising 32 percent of the total suicide rate for that year. Out of that total, 100 were from the former Soviet Union and 15 were from Ethiopia.
The chair of the committee that discussed the report, MK Avraham Naguisa, emphasized that while the aim of the mental health treatment reforms was indeed to make mental health services accessible to citizens, many individuals cannot be assisted in mild cases where short-term treatment is needed.
"Many olim experience a crisis as a result of immigrating and there is a fear of being tagged as someone with mental health problems," said Naguisa. "This stops them from seeking help, especially because they don't have the means to finance private therapy.
"The statistics show that there are no translators at health clinics, which makes it very difficult for many olim to receive treatment, even following the reforms," Naguisa continued. "The Ministry of Health and the health funds must immediately recruit multi-lingual therapists."
'Moving between countries is traumatic'
Tzach Ben Yehuda, a researcher at the center that authored the report, noted that the reforms transferred the responsibility for ensuring mental health treatment from the government to Israel's health funds, without changing the terms of access or people's entitlement to treatment that were in place before the reform.
According to the statistics in the report, which was written by Ben Yehuda, 8.81 percent of those hospitalized in 2010 for mental-health related problems were male olim. By 2014, this rate had decreased to 5.12 percent of all mental health-related hospitalizations.
As for women, 9.85 percent of psychiatric-related hospitalizations in 2010 were female immigrants. In 2014, this rate had dropped to 5.68 percent.
The report also showed that the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption, as part of a five-year program, invested around a million shekels for 11 Amharic-speaking social workers in the Ministry of Health's mental health centers.
Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova said that moving from one country to another is traumatic, and that this can persist for years: "Olim experience isolation, homesickness, depression, difficulty in succeeding, difficulty coping, culture shock and more," she said.
"The fear and the difficulty in being marked as someone with psychiatric problems as a result of seeking mental health treatment is part of this phenomenon and in fact magnifies it," Svetlova continued.
MK Dov Khenin of the Joint List said that "olim are the victims of this reform."
Danny Bodovsky, a manager at the Ministry of Health who deals with the mental health field, responded that health funds are obligated to provide free therapy at their clinics and that since the mental health reforms there has been a significant increase in the number of those seeking help.
Bodovsky also said that waiting times had decreased and that information sharing between doctors had improved.
Asher Rahamim, who is the coordinator of services for the Ethiopian community at the Israeli Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, said that Ethiopians are not finding an answer to their problems.
"The existing services are not accessible to us," Rahamim said. "We cannot ignore that in every household there is at least one person whose mental health condition is complicated.
"The families don't know how to deal with it, and whoever doesn't see the connection between mental health and poverty is missing a significant issue," Rahamim added.