Mental health help line struggles to stay afloat

ERAN needs emergency help of NIS 2.5m., and an increase of NIS 5m. in its annual gov't funding to be able to continue serving the public.

Eran, Israel's emergency mental health help line, may be forced to close by the end of 2009 due to budget shortfalls. The volunteer organization provides "mental first-aid" to people in distress. It was established in 1971, and is funded mostly by donations. Its services are provided anonymously by telephone (1201) and over the Internet, and are available at all hours of the day and night, every day of the year, in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English and Amharic. Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) has told MK Uri Ariel (Nation Union) his ministry would contribute an additional NIS 200,000 to the organization. However, Daniel Ginsberg, chairman of the help line, said its deficit amounted to NIS 5 million - and so the additional contribution was insignificant, and would not prevent a closure. ERAN has already begun shutting down some of its activities, and it might close completely by the end of the year, Ginsberg said. It has an annual budget of approximately NIS 10m., which has been badly hurt by the economic crisis and the consequent drop in donations from abroad. ERAN needed emergency help of NIS 2.5m., and an increase of NIS 5m. in its annual government funding to be able to continue serving the public, he said. Top mental health professionals say the help line saves the state millions of shekels per year, because those in need call ERAN instead of turning to the overloaded health and welfare systems. Ariel said he would do his best to save the help line. "The volunteers... save people, physically and spiritually, and this is an act of kindness that is unmatched. We cannot let this disappear," he said. The lawmaker has been leading the push in the Knesset to convince the government to save ERAN. However, said a member of his staff, "we can't force the government to give." Two weeks ago, 26 MKS joined in an effort to convince the government to act. In a letter to the prime minister, the Treasury, and the Health and Welfare ministries, they called for emergency help for the organization, and a promise that its activities would be able to continue. "We call on the government to immediately contribute emergency assistance to the emergency mental health help line, to prevent its collapse," the letter read. ERAN is working hard to keep afloat. "What we are asking for is money from the government, for the Knesset to find the money... We are in the middle of a battle to get it," a spokeswoman said. Recently, the NGO put together a petition which was signed by more than 100 senior mental health professionals from across the country. The closure of ERAN would hurt the hundreds of thousands of people who call each year in times of psychological stress and problems caused by things such as unemployment, war, sudden death, abuse and violence, the signatories said. A closure would mean the abandonment of hundreds of Israelis each year who call the hot line during a suicide attempt or while considering suicide, whose lives are saved by ERAN's volunteers, they said. Said chairman Ginsberg, "Mental health and welfare workers understand that ERAN forms a critical part of the mental support system... If we don't receive urgent assistance, we will be forced to stop." "Last year, we received 800 calls from people in true danger of committing suicide, and over 3,000 calls from those with a background of suicide attempts. "More than 2,000 people called and complained about situations in which they were taken advantage of, or sexually or physically abused. We must continue our efforts at saving people." but cannot exist without support from the government and the public."