The Aliyah and Integration Ministry launched a mental-health helpline for new immigrants on Tuesday.
It will be staffed five days a week from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and mental-health experts will provide their services free of charge in English, Russian, Amharic, French and Spanish.
The new service comes against the background of the coronavirus crisis, which has generated high unemployment, with higher rates among new immigrants, and has cut the olim off from their families abroad.
“Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, there has been a sharp rise in reports of citizens in mental distress, anxiety, loneliness and difficulties dealing with the challenges of corona,” Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) said Tuesday.
Emotional challenges are often exacerbated for new immigrants “by a range of additional obstacles, such as the language barrier and the inherent challenges of transitioning to a new country,” she said.
“That is why I instructed my office to launch a help hotline to offer emotional assistance to immigrants, to supplement the financial support and other supportive tools that the ministry offers olim across the different areas,” Tamano-Shata said.
Orna Yosef, a social worker employed by the Aliyah and Integration Ministry who will be helping with the hotline, said what has concerned her during the coronavirus crisis is the depth of the crises facing some olim due to the heightened challenges they face.
Although the ministry has an existing program to help olim with mental-health problems, the coronavirus crisis means there is a need to bolster the ministry’s services, she said.
“The difficulties are deeper, especially the loneliness and the lack of information,” she added.
Olim without family in Israel, singles, one-parent families and those who have not yet been able to form a social circle to help with networking have been affected, as well as those who did not have steady jobs before the crisis began, Yosef said.
These challenges and accompanying mental-health problems were present across the different immigrant populations, she said.
“Any immigrant who is experiencing stress and anxiety can call this hotline, and we will help provide an answer,” Yosef said, adding that follow-up calls or a reference to other professionals will also be available.
LiAmi Lawrence, director of the Keep Olim NGO, which assists new immigrants, said he has been disappointed with the state’s level of assistance to olim who have mental-health problems.
The new program is “too little too late,” he said.
Lawrence said his phone has been “ringing off the hook” in recent weeks with calls from olim who have various problems. He provides 120 people with free weekly counseling through a network of 60 volunteer counselors, he said.
Keep Olim has dealt with 350 crisis phone calls over the last four years, Lawrence said.
The organization will be launching a 24-hour crisis hotline next month to help olim in distress, and it will be available in multiple languages, he said.