We need to help olim from post-Soviet countries - opinion

While Israel claims that new immigrants are desired and encourage aliyah, for many people emigration turns into severe mental health problems.

 Churpin family making Aliyah from Ukraine  (photo credit: EKATERINA LEVCHENKO)
Churpin family making Aliyah from Ukraine
(photo credit: EKATERINA LEVCHENKO)

A third of new immigrants in Israel take their own lives. Back in 2014, studies showed that immigrants from Russia kill themselves more often than others. People coming from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia usually don’t find work in their specialty. Their academic degrees are not even recognized. Most olim don’t know Hebrew and neither do they have family or friends in Israel. All of them experience a huge level of stress and psychological pressure but none of them have access to mental help.

While Israel claims that new immigrants are desired and aliyah is a privilege to fulfill the Zionist vision, for many people emigration turns into severe mental health problems. In addition to the high mortality of returned Jews, this threatens Israel with a huge number of people who are not adapted to the country.

New arrivals in Israel

The number of new arrivals from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine is more than 67,000 people. Aliyah from Russia alone has increased by 400% compared to 2021. Imagine the number of people who won’t adapt to society. They will live in their diasporas, left out of Israeli life. Many of them (those who will stay in the country) are likely to start working illegally and thus undermine the entire economic system of Israel, although many of them have in-demand professions, talents, creativity and the desire to be included.

The very fact of moving to a new country is accompanied by a severe psychological burden. It’s called Ulysses syndrome. Symptoms include depressive and anxiety disorders, feelings of emotional detachment and physical symptoms, such as insomnia and migraines. People faced with emigration tend to experience a decrease in self-esteem and productivity, a sense of fear, sadness and hopelessness.

 Ukrainian refugees are seen arriving in Israel as part of Operation Israeli Guarantee, on March 6, 2022. (credit: Sraya Diamant/GPO) Ukrainian refugees are seen arriving in Israel as part of Operation Israeli Guarantee, on March 6, 2022. (credit: Sraya Diamant/GPO)

The war brought a terrible crisis to the countries of the post-Soviet space. People from Ukraine flee to Israel to save their lives. Immigrants from Russia and Belarus are running away from the military mobilization and the bloody terrorist regime. It leads to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder: anxiety, outbursts of anger, depression, lack of motivation, intrusive memories, nightmares, mood swings, apathy, and more.

THIS KIND of trauma is experienced not only by those who were directly in the war zone but also by those who were witnesses, even online. Similar symptoms are experienced by people fearing for their freedom, coming from countries where you can be arrested and tortured for the phrase “no war” (as in Russia and Belarus).

Add to this picture the stress of emigration in general. What do we get? We get a portrait of a man saving his life or freedom. This person doesn’t know the language, doesn’t understand how the Israeli bureaucratic system works, doesn’t know his rights and obligations, and has no family, friends or a house. Even with a sought-after profession, he cannot find a job.

The labor market is very competitive and compared to people who know Hebrew and understand the Israeli mentality, a confused new immigrant is unlikely to look attractive to the employer; a long job search, high prices, a new climate and living conditions, problems in the country of origin, social isolation and psychological exhaustion.

With this experience, you are likely to get a high risk of psychological disorders, alcohol and drug addictions, antisocial behavior and in the end, suicide. As a new immigrant, I experience this path for myself. I know and see how much people in such situations now lack psychological support.

We can only approximately predict the percentage of new immigrants who will succumb to the stress and commit suicide or become severely mentally ill. Given the crisis in the countries of the post-Soviet space, for immigrants from these places, this figure can grow significantly. The negative consequences of this situation for Israel will not be long in coming if new immigrants won’t be getting psychological support.

Israel helps new immigrants. It includes payments, the opportunity to study and partial tax relief. Having experienced this myself, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and admiration for this country. All this help is certainly invaluable but did it help to cope with stress? Do I know where to turn for help? Is there a phone number that I can call when I feel too bad? How can I deal with social isolation? How to bear all the weight that has fallen on me? All these questions are asked by many new immigrants. There are no answers to these questions.

Of course, people are responsible for their health. But both from a rational point of view, thinking about the well-being of Israel in the long term and from a humane point of view, providing psychological support today is an important step in preventing a social crisis in the future.

The writer is a journalist and psychologist who moved to Israel in March.