Jan 22, 2021

From speaking to relatives and friends and from seeing evidence in the street and on people’s faces, Israelis have had a feeling that it was true. Now, a new study by Tel Aviv University and the Tel Hai Academic and Technology College in the north shows that since the second COVID-19 lockdown (September-October), symptoms of anxiety and depression have increased significantly beyond what they were during the first lockdown (March-April).

In October 2020, at the peak of the second lockdown, one in three Israelis report being afflicted with high or very-high anxiety, and one in five said they suffered from significant or very significant symptoms of depression.


The survey was led by Dr. Bruria Adini of the Emergency and Disaster Management Department at the School of Public Health in the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Shaul Kimhi, Prof. Yohanan Eshel and Dr. Hadas Marciano, researchers at the Resilience and Stress Research Center, at Tel-Hai College. 


In the study, the researchers monitored the way a representative sample of 804 Jewish adults coped with the COVID-19 crisis. When the lockdown after the first wave was lifted, only 14% of the respondents (one in seven) reported a high or very high level of depression. In comparison, in 2018, only nine of the population (fewer than one in ten) reported a high or very high level of depression. 


According to the researchers, “the study demonstrates the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and the severe damage to the public’s mental resilience. The sharp increase in the rate of people suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression is very disturbing. For the most part, this suggests mental damage that is not outwardly visible, and is therefore not being properly treated. It is important to emphasize that anxiety, and especially depression, are liable to negatively affect the population’s daily functioning, such as maintaining the functionality at home, working, being active in community life, taking care of health, and so on.”


Above all, they added, “the more people suffer from symptoms of depression, the less motivated and willing they are to cooperate and comply with the government’s mandates on social distancing or other restrictions.”


The study also raises other questions such as whether Israel’s psychological and psychiatric institutions are capable of handling a phenomenon of this scope and are they prepared to provide effective treatment to such a range of anxiety and depression manifestations. “We must also ask ourselves whether people who feel depressed or anxious even try to get help for their mental state. Does the Israeli healthcare system have effective ways for identifying and treating them early, before their condition worsens?” the researchers asked. “Moreover, what might be the long-term implications of these mental effects for those who suffer from them, for their immediate surroundings, and indeed for the country as a whole? These questions require immediately attention.”


The Israel Medical Association’s Psychiatric Association reported on Tuesday that since the outbreak of the virus, there has been an increase of more than 15% in the number of referrals to psychiatric clinics, accompanied by a drop in the number of group therapies and the number of individual psychotherapy treatments. 


Meanwhile, in a letter to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, the chairman of the Psychiatric Association, Dr. Zvi Fischel warned that “an additional 30% in treatment hours is needed for the foreseeable future. There must also be 10% more psychiatric day-care beds and inpatient beds” to care for those whose emotional and psychological states have deteriorated due to the pandemic.