Renee Garfinkel

International journalists visit Israel during mental health month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the US, but for a group of international journalists hosted by the Jerusalem Press Club in Israel, mental health discussions weren’t just a timely coincidence during their visit. Amidst the backdrop of the month dedicated to mental health awareness, these journalists engaged in a crucial conversation about Israel’s mental health landscape.

This diverse group of journalists, keen on absorbing new knowledge, delved into the realities of mental health in Israel. They were presented with stark statistics, such as the staggering 950% increase in calls related to anxiety, trauma, and loss to Eran, the mental health hotline, just last month compared to the same period the previous year. Notably, 41% of these calls came from individuals aged 18 to 35, highlighting the acute challenges faced by the younger generation.

There are new Israeli initiatives, like the opening of new programs for treating PTSD, which emphasize the urgency of addressing mental health issues. Tel Aviv University’s National Center for Traumatic Stress and Resilience, originally designed for research and treatment, swiftly adapted to provide emergency care following the recent crisis. Additionally, innovative approaches such as the therapeutic use of ketamine at the forthcoming PTSD program at Shaare Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem underscores Israel’s commitment to progressive mental health care.

Yet, amidst these efforts, Israel remains entrenched in ongoing trauma. Rachel Goldberg’s poignant metaphor likening the experience of families of hostages to being crushed under a relentless weight resonates deeply. The trauma of October 7 looms large, with its pervasive impact felt across the nation. Collective grief has not had a chance to be processed, leaving many grappling with the unyielding weight of uncertainty.

While not everyone will develop full-blown PTSD, the ripple effects of trauma are palpable. Sleep disturbances, anxiety, intrusive thoughts – these are just a few of the myriad symptoms that afflict individuals in the aftermath of trauma. The very fabric of one’s worldview is torn asunder, leaving behind a landscape marred by uncertainty and distress. For those directly impacted, such as the internally displaced or the families of hostages, the burden of uncertainty becomes nearly unbearable.

In the midst of these discussions, the journalists found themselves circling back to a recurring theme: antisemitism. Beyond the immediate focus on mental health, they grappled with the pervasive presence of antisemitic tropes, both in the events they cover and within their own professional spheres. An acknowledgment of deeply ingrained prejudices underscored the complexity of the challenges faced by Israeli society and by Jews in the diaspora.

As the dialogue unfolded, it became evident that mental health and antisemitism are intertwined facets of Israel’s narrative. While strides are being made in addressing mental health needs, the specter of antisemitism looms large, demanding continued vigilance and action.

So, as Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, let us not only reflect on the strides made but also recognize the interconnectedness of mental health and broader societal issues. May our conversations extend beyond the confines of a single month, opposing the forces of hate, fostering greater understanding and empathy in addressing the multifaceted challenges that lie ahead.

About the Author
Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, television commentator and podcast host of the Van Leer Series on Ideas with Renee Garfinkel
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