IDF reinforces program to help with stress-related disorders

Senior Medical Corps officer says restriction of firearms has significantly reduced number of suicides in the army.

An IDF soldier. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
An IDF soldier.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Three years after Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the IDF is strengthening programs for soldiers dealing with stress-related disorders and has greatly reduced the number of suicides, a senior Medical Corps officer says.
According to the senior officer, the need to focus on stress-related or adjustment disorders was recognized by the IDF shortly after the 2014 summer war fought with Hamas, which saw soldiers implement a program where troops are trained to identify trauma reactions in their peers on the battlefield.
“Soldiers are trained to help during acute moments of stress. By using basic questions, they are able to ground their fellow soldier, which allows him to return to combat,” the senior officer told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
All combat soldiers are now given an hour-and-a-half workshop on the Magen (Shield) Program which was developed by the Medical Corps’ Mental Health Department along with Dr. Moshe Farchi, the head of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience Studies Department at Tel-Hai College, in an effort to minimize post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by soldiers who have seen combat.
“Magen is like putting a tourniquet on someone; you don’t need to be a professional to do it,” he stated, adding that “while it doesn’t always work, it does help prevent PTSD and allows the soldier to function during combat.”
Before the implementation of the Magen program, shellshocked soldiers were evacuated from the battlefield along with other physically wounded soldiers, but according to the senior Medical Corps officer, treating them immediately in the field not only minimizes the immediate implications of the trauma but also helps to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder in those soldiers by dealing with the acute stress reaction, which among other things could lead to suicide.
Following the suicide of three soldiers from the Givati Brigade and one reservist called up to emergency duty shortly after the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, the army for the first time actively approached soldiers in an effort to find anyone who might need help.
“The leading cause of death among soldiers in peacetime is suicide. We don’t hide our numbers,” the senior officer said. There were 15 suicides among soldiers in 2016.
“Our goal is to get to zero, but it is easier to get from 30 suicides to 15 compared to going from 15 suicides to zero,” the officer added.
The officer explained that the general downward trend in suicide is due to restricted access to weapons, on the one hand, and the army’s efforts in suicide prevention, on the other.
According to the senior Medical Corps officer, Israel sees an average of 400-500 suicides every year, and the number of suicides among men between the ages of 15 and 24 has dramatically decreased in recent years, from 11.7 per hundred thousand in 2001-2003 to 5.5 per hundred thousand in 2011- 2013.
“Compared to 2006 the number of soldiers going home with their weapons is much lower. Combat soldiers need their weapon and we cannot take it away from them, but controlling and restricting firearms to those who need it for their job is the most efficient way to prevent suicide,” he said.