Almost one in five First Lebanon War veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms — and almost none of them have ever sought help for their mental health issues — according to a new survey conducted by the NATAL war and terrorism trauma nonprofit organization.
First Lebanon War trauma
According to NATAL, 18% of the 244 respondents to their survey indicated that they suffered from PTSD symptoms, though some do not define themselves as having PTSD.
24% of respondents told NATAL that the war impacted their mental health. 17% said the war had impacted their physical health, and 20% had said that they had been wounded physically or mentally during the war. 47% of the veterans shared that they served with someone who suffered mental injuries during the war.
Trouble seeking help
NATAL's study indicates that 89% of First Lebanon War veterans have not sought psychiatric assistance since they finished their military service.
Many combat soldiers have difficulty admitting that they have PTSD, social workers from Guardian Brother, an NGO that aids IDF combat seek help mental health help, previously informed The Jerusalem Post Magazine. Many soldiers do not wish to see themselves as weak, try to ignore the symptoms, or avoid facing them because the symptoms are associated with painful memories.
Soldiers and specialists have previously told The Jerusalem Post that there are a variety of reasons why combat veterans do not seek help. Some are afraid that the process requires registering into official systems, which will prevent them from obtaining security positions, working in the Defense Ministry, the ability to continue reserve duty or could lead to increased health insurance premiums.
Many combat soldiers see seeking help as conflicting with IDF warrior ethos — Especially lone soldiers and female soldiers who are trying to buck cultural stigmas about them.
"Getting mental health support should be as easy as drinking a cup of water. No shame should be accompanied with getting help — Rather encouragement from society and the systems in supporting these guys and girls."Yaakov Smith, CEO of Guardian Brother
Dealing with loss
According to NATAL's survey, 78% of the veterans served with a soldier that was killed in the First Lebanon War.
"[PTSD] symptoms are 2.9 times higher among war veterans that served with someone who fell in battle compared to war veterans that didn't."NATAL
An elite commando unit veteran who previously spoke to The Post said that in his opinion, much of the trauma experienced was not based on fear, but "has to do with the shame of not being able to save your comrades in that situation, from injury or death.”
NATAL also found that there was a higher rate of use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs among conscripts than there was among reservists, who tend to be older. 12% of veterans said that they used these drugs, according to the survey.
Social workers from Guardian Brother have previously told The Post that many combat soldiers with PTSD use marijuana and other drugs to self-medicate and alleviate symptoms.
Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD may include shortened patience and issues with relationships of all kinds.
15% of the veterans told NATAL that the war affected their romantic relationships. 13.5% said that it affected their parenting, and 15% said that the war hampered their ability to work. 42% said that they do not keep in touch with friends from their military service.
Focus on IDF soldiers' mental health
While over a third of veterans told NATAL that the war influenced their political views, 83% of respondents said that they were proud of their military service.
The mental health of IDF soldiers has been given greater importance in Israeli public discourse since the April 12 self-immolation of Protective Edge veteran Itzik Saidan outside a Defense Ministry office — Reportedly in protest of the poor treatment, he had received in his attempts to be recognized as having PTSD.
Since Saidan's attempted suicide, Defense Minister Benny Gantz launched the One Soul reforms. Bills and amendments have been signed to increase eligibility for compensation, a 24/7 hotline has been established for those suffering PTSD and crisis houses have been developed for those suffering severe mental breakdowns, as well as other administrative reforms.
However, as the reforms rolled out, there have been several notable suicides and suicide attempts by IDF veterans.
Itzik Chen, who served as a paratrooper in Lebanon in the 1990s, committed suicide in December. While he suffered from PTSD due to his service, the Defense Ministry said his suicide was unrelated to his service. Also in December, a disabled veteran attempted to end his life outside the Defense Ministry's Rehabilitation Division at Tel Hashomer in Tel Aviv.
In early May, a disabled IDF veteran was stopped from emulating Saidan and setting himself alight in Jerusalem.
NATAL's study comes 40 years after the end of the First Lebanon War. The NGO says that it has been providing psychological assistance to victims of war and terrorism for 23 years. It says that it has treated more than 380,000 discharged soldiers and civilians over the years.
NATAL's free helpline can be reached at 1-800-363-363 or you can send an email here.
The Defense Ministry PTSD hotline can be reached by dialing *8944.
IDF veterans seeking therapy can message Guardian Brother at 050-656-3748 or learn more here.
Jerusalem Post Staff and Eliav Breuer contributed to this report.