A severe mental health crisis has intensified in recent months in Israel since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Health Ministry, the body entrusted with monitoring and combating the suicide phenomenon, has not yet established a real-time data pool on the issue.
Instead of appointing a registrar for suicide statistics, a measure that was already decided upon during the previous government, the ministry provides experts with partial data on the subject from the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute – the only facility in Israel authorized to conduct autopsies in cases of unnatural death.
However, the data, based on the number of autopsies conducted where suicide was determined, account for only about two-thirds of all cases and do not provide a broad enough picture of the phenomenon.
According to data published Tuesday by the ministry in response to a request from Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet, there has been a 75% surge in the number of people ages 15 to 24 who ended their lives between the years 2016 and 2020: rising from 33 individuals to 58, respectively.
Furthermore, experts in the mental health field and suicide clarify that the program to combat loss, established based on a government decision in 2013, is severely underfunded, with a shortage of approximately NIS 10 million ($2.7 million) per year.
According to Professor Gil Zalsman, the director of the Geha Mental Health Center and chairman of the National Program for the Prevention of Suicidality and Suicide, "We don't really know what is truly happening in Israel because our measurement relies on the Central Bureau of Statistics, and therefore the data from the Health Ministry is delayed by two or three years. The way to solve this is to establish a registry for suicide, similar to the registry for cancer, which can indicate an increase in a specific area. We have been trying to promote this issue for many years."
Zalsman says that former CEO and current director-general of the Health Ministry, Dr. Nachman Ash, approved the position, which was defined by the Civil Service Commission. Therefore, he hopes that the role will be filled soon. "Once there is a registry, we will be able to know the situation, like in any Western country. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when asked if there is a decrease or increase, we couldn't answer that question."
Zalsman further adds that "on a global level, there is a decrease – not an increase – in suicide rates. There is an increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts, but there is no increase in suicides generally."
Regarding the suicide prevention program, he adds that it is also underfunded. "The program is budgeted at 17 million shekels ($4.6 million) per year, while the actual required amount is 27 million shekels ($7.3 million) per year."
The Health Ministry said in response: "Since there is a new benchmark for the position of the responsible physician for information and registration, it is undergoing a standardization procedure, and after that, a tender will be published."