A 27% rise in reports of suicide, depression and domestic violence among LGBTQ+ teens has been recorded since the coronavirus outbreak began, according to Army Radio.
"We entered three months in which youth were stuck at home. When the family is good, accepting and inclusive – it's all well and good; but when the family gets mad and violent who ignores needs, identity and wants of the child – then the house is a prison," Ofer Neumann, CEO of Israel Gay Youth (IGY), a national LGBTQ youth group, told Army Radio.
The reports of suicide, depression and domestic violence that IGY has received have been from youth as young as those in 8th grade. Many lone soldiers, haredi families and Arab families who had left their homes to find freedom were forced to return home due to the financial difficulties brought by the coronavirus outbreak.
Youth stuck at home told IGY that they weren't allowed to leave their rooms and couldn't speak with friends on the phone. IGY switched their activities over to Zoom because they thought and hoped that LGBTQ+ youth, even those who are still in the closet, would be able to join the activities at least.
"In many cases, this worked and was successful," Neumann explained to Army Radio. "But in many cases, we heard on hotlines and more discrete discussions that even that wasn't possible because parents checked phones and computers. "It got to a situation where they were cut off from every accepting and inclusive piece of life that a youth can receive."
In response to a question about whether the haredi community was being affected the most, Neumann stressed that no community is free of homophobia, although the Arab and haredi communities are getting hit harder than others.
Sunday, May 17, marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
On Sunday, Army Radio reported that the head of the pre-military mechina program Bnei-David Eli, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, said that conversion therapy must be performed at a very early age for "maximum results" in attempting to "help" people contain homosexual urges.
Bnei-David, an organization that Levinstein works with, later denied that the rabbi supported conversion therapy, saying that he was recommending "professional psychological therapies that can sensitively help the youth."
Levinstein later told Kipa news that he had not recommended conversion therapy, which he defined as violent therapies that were conducted in the past, and had instead recommended "excellent psychologists who conducted treatment with psychological and normative methods" to bring patients back to their "natural place." The rabbi lamented that the LGBTQ+ community "does not accept that it is possible to change."
Levinstein had previously expressed homophobic views. In 2018, the rabbi expressed disgust towards the LGBTQ+ community, claiming that it "takes the tragedy of men and the tragedy of women with their tendencies and turns it into an ideology."
In response to the statements by Levinstein, Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen announced that the Ramat Gan Municipality would place an LGBTQ+ pride flag next to the Israeli flag in the courtyard of the municipality for an entire month. Shama-Hacohen called on his fellow mayors to respond similarly “and not to leave anyone alone before darkness like this and definitely not the LGBTQ+ youth in the city.”
A survey by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics found that 22.5% of the respondents reported that their mental state had worsened during the outbreak. Twenty-five percent of the respondents reported that their children’s mental states had worsened.
About 1.9 million people, or 34.3% of the population, reported feeling anxious or stressed during the outbreak. In addition, 10.1% of reported feeling extremely stressed or anxious while 24.2% reported feeling somewhat stressed or anxious.
A total of 16.2% of respondents reported feeling depressed, and 23.5% reported feeling alone. In addition, 22.6% of respondents who live with others reported tension between family members during the outbreak.
Psychiatric care services were greatly reduced during the coronavirus outbreak, making care extremely difficult to find. Yarden Mendelson, a leader in the Israeli Public Psychology Forum, told Army Radio that a national plan that was meant to be implemented for the mental health care system in the case of an emergency was not implemented during the outbreak.
A report by the state comptroller found that, as of 2018, the average waiting time for psychiatric care in Israel was about five months. The waiting time for an intake assessment to even begin treatment can take up to 12-16 months. The comptroller warned that this could harm the patient, their mental health, their families and their environment.
HMOs failed to develop home calls for mental health patients or establish crisis teams, and there is no service available for emergency situations, according to the report.
The HMOs have also failed to hire enough therapists, leading to the extended wait times reported throughout most of Israel. Patients are often forced to find private healthcare providers who cost about NIS 570 a month, which means care is unavailable to many.
There is a severe shortage of psychiatrists throughout Israel, especially in the Arab sector. Despite intermittent grant programs that have been in place since 2011, the shortage of psychiatrists is not expected to be resolved in the coming years.
On average, 372 people commit suicide per year – a little more than one a day – out of 6,370 attempts, according to the State Comptroller's Report. Suicide is in fact the second leading cause of death among teenagers in Israel. Nevertheless, over the past decade, the number of suicide cases in the country has dropped by almost 15%.
Tamar Beeri contributed to this report.