Rivlin visits mental hospital to raise mental health awareness

Reuven Rivlin is the first Israeli president to visit a mental health care facility.

President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Recent reports by health and welfare services, the police and various media outlets about the high incidence of mental disorders, and an increase in suicides and attempted suicides during lockdowns and quarantines, prompted President Reuven Rivlin to visit the Geha Mental Health Center which is under the auspices of the Clalit Health Services, and has received a 30% increase in referrals since the onset of the pandemic.
Rivlin is the first president in the nation’s history to visit a psychiatric hospital. On the evening prior to the visit, KAN 11 television showed a news feature about Geha, which no longer has room to accommodate those patients who need to be hospitalized and is sending them on to general hospitals.
In Israel, there has long been a stigma related to mental illness. According to various psychologists and psychiatrists who with ever-increasing frequency are being interviewed on Israeli radio and television stations, that stigma still exists. They say people are embarrassed to consult a psychiatrist, even when they recognize that they have a mental problem.
Part of the history of the stigma can be traced to the time when arranged marriages were the norm. Any family member with a mental or physical disability was hidden from sight, lest it be thought that such disabilities were hereditary and spoil the chances of a good match for siblings.
No one should be ashamed of feeling mental difficulties, said Rivlin. Anyone who experiences them should not keep such feelings to themselves and wait for a crisis to develop. Rivlin urged that anyone who is suffering in this way should seek professional help and he further emphasized that it was important not to be embarrassed.
“If we had a swab test for our mental health, we would be able to see the damage caused by the disease clearly, along with its side effects: isolation, uncertainty and social distancing,” said Rivlin. He continued, “But as things stand, these are silent and transparent diseases, and they have a price in mental health; a heavy price; a price that may cost lives, and will certainly affect our health.” Referring to medical teams, Rivlin called them “the invisible heroes of the fight against the coronavirus.”
Aware that mental health is an integral part of overall health, Rivlin underscored that those who are on the front lines of the battle against the novel coronavirus must be equally vigilant in treating and safeguarding mental health. Rivlin also met with some of the Geha patients.
A candid 14-year-old told him that he felt that he was a failure to his parents and heard some inner voice telling him to commit suicide. It was an unfamiliar voice. It was only when he came to Geha that he understood that he had undergone a psychotic attack.
 Another 14-year-old told Rivlin that he had psychotic depression. He explained his social fears to the president, saying people were following him and photographing him; someone was pursuing him and wanted to do him harm. After he stopped going to school, he took the pills prescribed by his psychiatrist. Now he studies at Geha, goes home and manages to lead a regular life.
A 12-YEAR-OLD shared her sense of isolation with the president. No one understands her distress, she said. She had come to Geha because she was depressed and had shown signs of suicidal tendencies and social anxiety. “A suicidal person is someone who feels that there is no more hope and that he can no longer lift himself out of the depths of despair,” she said. “I tried to hurt myself and I felt so completely alone, and that no one understood me.” She also told the president that there is something in society that dictates that it’s not all right to feel as she does, and anyone who does feel that way is damaged. “People really don’t understand what it means and it was hard for anyone to help me. Coming here is seen as problematic or unusual, and is not accepted by society. That makes us feel even more isolated. We need people to give us a helping hand and to understand that it is all right to come here because that’s the only way that we can receive the treatment that we need.”
Rivlin urged the youngsters to continue with their therapy, telling them to be as aware of the necessity of dealing with emotional pain just as people are aware of the necessity of dealing with physical pain.
Geha’s director Prof. Gil Zaltzman told Rivlin that in the initial period of the epidemic, occupancy declined from 98% to 89% because patients were unwilling to be hospitalized for fear of infection. But since the end of 2020, with the introduction of secure wards, the need for occupancy has been beyond capacity and has risen to 115%, with the result that some patients have to be transferred elsewhere.
Geha treats people in every age group from very young children to very senior citizens. Some patients suffer from chronic physical as well as mental disorders and require special attention.
Just as the virus attacks all sectors of the population without discrimination, said Rivlin, so does mental illness.
Zaltzman said that one of the great challenges faced by people in his profession is to break stigmas. “Mental health patients often find themselves literally dying of shame, and are afraid to go for treatment.”
Geha is the only mental health facility in the country that deals with children of elementary school age. Zaltzman advises parents who see any change in the behavior of their children, to immediately take them for a psychiatric check-up just as they would take them to the dentist or the family doctor. If there is anything wrong and it is nipped in the bud, the child can be spared years of agony.