World Mental Health Day: Due to COVID, emergency services open Whatsapp hotline

With the establishment of the service, the system saw a surge in appeals; 27% relating to depression and acute distress. * CEO of Eran: “The pandemic let the psychological demons out of the closet."

Depression (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE)
Depression (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE)

The psychological pandemic of the COVID era is still with us, and the Eran organization (an acronym for Immediate Psychological Aid), which operates Israel’s largest mental health hotline 24/7 for the past 50 years, has been working in an emergency setup that has become the norm.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the organization has seen a leap in calls, including acute suicide attempt cases. 

In order to facilitate the anonymous service of Eran volunteers, which up until now had been available through the phone and via the internet, the organization decided to recruit the popular messaging app Whatsapp. Their main target is 12-24 teens and youngsters, and family homeowners at 35-55 years old. These sectors were defined by the organization as “high-risk communities, who should receive additional help and treatment in the coming years following the upheaval and uncertainty they experienced since the beginning of the corona outbreak, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, and to this day.”

Calls to a mental health hotline in Israel doubled during the recent crisis, with many callers expressing anxiety about conditions within Israel. (credit: GETTY IMAGES/JTA)Calls to a mental health hotline in Israel doubled during the recent crisis, with many callers expressing anxiety about conditions within Israel. (credit: GETTY IMAGES/JTA)

October 10 marks World Mental Health Day. Eran data reveals that since the beginning of 2021, among young adults and teens, 27% of the calls received by the organization related to psychological struggle, depression or acute distress. Another 15% had to do with loneliness and 16% were directly related to the coronavirus, anxiety, trauma or loss. All of the above symptoms have seen a rising trend throughout the pandemic.

Other appeals dealt with interpersonal, social or familial relationship problems. In addition, 7% of the calls were about sexual abuse, and 2% - suicide attempts.

Eran also relay that 2020 saw a 25% rise in calls from teens, and a 102% rise in appeals from young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 in comparison to the previous year. Despite the surge in appeals, Eran stresses that teens and young adults remain a social group that avoids asking for help, and the organization assesses that making the service more accessible will bring an even higher rise in requests for help.

A pilot of the Whatsapp service was established in April, during which the organization trained dozens of volunteers in providing appropriate responses using the messaging platform. Every month, Eran says, the amount of messages grew higher, from 521 in April to 1,429 by August.

“The coronavirus pandemic and Operation Guardian of the Walls have let the psychological demons out of the closet,” said David Koren, CEO of Eran. “People and sectors who never dealt with acute psychological distress turned to us and reported anxiety, loneliness, depression and helplessness.

We call on teens and young adults who feel distressed to not hesitate, and turn to us through our new service, and [we call on] adults and teachers to stay alert, and when they identify distress, to immediately let the person know they have someone to turn to.”

The Eran hotline is operated 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The national number is 1201. For the Whatsapp hotline, click here.