Coronavirus research: One in five Israelis suffer from depression

Israeli Psychiatric Association: 15% increase in referrals to psychiatric clinics since pandemic’s start

Mental health inmate rests in bed [illustrative] 300 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jianan Yu)
Mental health inmate rests in bed [illustrative] 300
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jianan Yu)
One out of every five Israelis reported suffering from high or very high levels of depression, according to a new study by Tel Aviv University and the Academic and Technology College of Tel-Hai.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, symptoms of depression have increased significantly – from 14% in May 2020 to 18% in July 2020 and to 20% in October.
At the same time, the study found that at the peak of the second wave, almost one in three people in Israel (29%) suffered extreme or highly extreme symptoms of anxiety. Here, too, the data presents a sharp increase – from 23% in May to 27% in July and now 29%.
In contrast, in 2018, only 12% of the population expressed high and very high anxiety levels in 2018 and only 9% expressed these levels of depression.
“It is concerning to see that over time, resilience is going down and anxiety and depression is going up,” said Dr. Bruria Adini of the Emergency and Disaster Management Department at the School of Public Health at Tel Aviv University, who led the study. “This should come to the attention of policy and opinion makers.”
Adini’s study was sent to The Jerusalem Post on the same day that Dr. Zvi Fishel, a psychiatrist and chairman of the Israeli Psychiatric Association, sent a letter to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein expressing concern over the increase by more than 15% of the number of referrals to psychiatric clinics since the start of the pandemic.
Fishel warned that an additional 30% of treatment hours needed funding immediately, as well as an additional 10% increase in hospital beds to accommodate the expected patients.
“We must prepare for the consequences of the pandemic and in order to avoid the ‘Yom Kippur’ of the health system in general and mental health in particular,” Fishel wrote.
Adini said that one of the more interesting data points that resulted from her longitudinal survey of more than 800 Israeli adults was that younger people, between the ages of 31 and 40, actually presented higher levels of perceived threats and depression compared to those over the age of 61.
“You would think they [the older population] would have higher perceived threats and lower level resilience, but we found the opposite,” she told the Post.
“The study demonstrates the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the severe damage to the public’s mental resilience,” a release on the study further noted. “For the most part, this suggests mental damage that is not outwardly visible, and is therefore not being properly treated. It is important to emphasize that anxiety, and especially depression, are liable to negatively affect the population’s daily functioning, such as maintaining the functionality at home, working, being active in community life, taking care of health, and so on.
“Above all, the more people suffer from symptoms of depression, the less motivated and willing they are to cooperate and comply with the government’s mandates on social distancing or other restrictions,” the release said.
Adini said that the study looked at how people were feeling, but not whether or not those who were suffering sought actual help.
“We believe a large number do not seek help,” she said. “This is concerning in and of itself.”
She stressed that those who took part in the survey were “functioning people that had jobs, families and so on and in the last nine or 10 months things got shaky.”
Adini added that if people go untreated their current anxiety and depression could become post traumatic stress disorder, and “we want to avoid that at any price.”