Disappointment with their own government has caused Israelis to have greater negative feelings in the COVID-19 pandemic than their counterparts in Switzerland, according to research at the University of Zurich that included a researcher from Tel Aviv University (TAU).
Israelis surveyed reported finding the situation more burdensome and experiencing more negative feelings than the Swiss. To find out why, the study focused on perceived loss of control, fatalism and sense of disappointment in or betrayal by one’s own government institutions.
“The main cause of negative feelings and moods associated with the pandemic is that people are disappointed in their own government institutions,” said Prof. Andreas Maercker, who holds the chair of psychopathology and clinical intervention at the Swiss university.
“Trust or disappointment in government crisis management is an important factor for the general mood. At the end of April, Israelis were twice as disappointed with their government institutions during the pandemic as Swiss citizens. In Switzerland, a certain fatalism made for less negative feelings,” he added.
The situation did not assess Israelis’ mood during the current second wave, but it is logical that the situation is worse due to the long lockdown that is currently being relaxed gradually, the closure and bankruptcy of many business, the unemployment of nearly a million employees and the fact that most children have been out of their classrooms for months.
At the end of April, the researchers, which included Rahel Bachem, an Israeli clinical psychologist, interviewed around 600 people from all age groups in both Switzerland and Israel. They first examined the extent of the pandemic-related risks and restrictions to everyday life experienced up to that point in each country. No differences between the two countries were found in this regard, as the Swiss and the Israeli respondents were equally affected by the risk of infection or quarantine
“In a situation as threatening as a pandemic, people look to the public authorities, whose responsibilities include supporting and protecting individuals. If insufficient support is provided, this is a serious source of concern,” said the researchers.
According to the study, interventions that helped people feel they could individually protect themselves against the virus had the potential to lessen the negative effects – but only in Israel. In Switzerland that was not the case. In terms of accepting one’s own fate, fatalistic attitudes were more pronounced in Israel, but they did not influence how scared the Israeli people were of Covid-19.
“For Swiss people, however, surrendering to fate went along with less fear of Covid-19. Fatalism therefore seems to have had a protective effect during the pandemic in Switzerland,” said first author Bachem, a postdoctoral student in psychological trauma and stress-response syndromes
According to the authors, this social psychological difference between the two countries is based on the fact that Israelis have to live with a permanent sense of threat in their country and therefore generally think more fatalistically, regardless of the current threat from Covid-19. There was no correlation between fatalism and negative mood among the population. “This is an interesting scientific finding, as fatalism is generally regarded as a risk factor for mental health in emergency situations. However, this was not the case during the Covid-19 pandemic,” they wrote.
The study shows how important the actions of government institutions are during a pandemic crisis. For Maercker, this confirms the vital importance of trust in government crisis measures. In addition, although Covid-19 is a global phenomenon, prevention and intervention strategies must be adapted to local contexts.
On Monday, Israel’s State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman – an appointee of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – issued a detailed, devastating and widely publicized report on the functioning of the government since the pandemic began. While not naming names or even names of ministries to blame for the failed performance of the government, Englman faulted it for “starving” the healthcare system for years, wastefully purchasing unused equipment for testing COVID-19 patients, failing to detect adequately the contacts of patients and prevent the spread of the disease, among other shortcomings. The amount of anti-depression medications obtained by Israelis, the higher use of alcohol and tobacco, greater level of family violence and even of suicides testify to the declining mood of the Israeli public since February.
Despite reports that the Nes Ziona Biological Institute will soon begin testing of a potential coronavirus vaccine, most Israelis say they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.