Nearly eight percent of Jewish Israeli 10th-graders and nearly 18 percent of their Arab counterparts say they have tried to kill themselves at least once, while 17 percent and 20 percent, respectively, say they have thought seriously about suicide.
These figures emerge from a study carried out several years ago by Dr. Yossi Harel-Fisch of Bar-Ilan University submitted recently to the Education Ministry. About 1,600 Jewish 10th-graders and 2,000 Arab 10th-graders participated in the survey.
Among the Jewish respondents, nine percent reported that in the year prior to the survey they had thought about how they would kill themselves. Some 3.7 percent of the Jews and 9.2 percent of the Arabs reported at least one suicide attempt that ended in injury, poisoning or a drug overdose.
Of the interviewees, 31 percent of the Jews and 38 percent of the Arabs said they cannot discuss their problems with either of their parents.
Among the Jewish teens surveyed, 16.4 percent of those defining themselves as religiously observant and 16.8 percent of those defining themselves as traditional admitted to suicidal thoughts, compared to 18.2 percent among those who defined themselves as non-observant. The differences were more pronounced among the Arab respondents, with 19 percent of those defining themselves as religiously observant or tradition reporting suicidal ideation compared to 37.3 percent among the non-observant.
"One reason may be that Arab teens live in tension between two cultures, traditional and secular," Education Ministry chief psychologist Hava Friedman said.
The results of the study, which will be published soon, were presented by Friedman at a conference on suicide prevention held several weeks ago at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava.
In recent years, some 10 to 12 Israeli schoolchildren commit suicide annually, although ministry officials say the real number may be higher because the figures only relate to reported cases for which internal committees are appointed. Youth suicide rates in Israel are about the international average.
Friedman cautioned against comparing the figures from Harel-Fisch's study to international studies, since little data on the subject is available. One reason for this is the difficulty in defining a suicide attempt. Suicidal behavior is sometimes identical to high-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse. Nevertheless, Friedman says, the study's findings are very worrying. "They don't necessarily reflect a group of children whose lives are in danger, but there is nothing reassuring about the data. The very high rates of suicidal thoughts indicate that these children are unhappy and that attention must be paid to their distress. These are very difficult findings," Friedman said.
She is not surprised by the large number of teens in the study who say they cannot tell their troubles to a parent, and points to teens' tendency "to escape into electronic devices" and parents' "difficulties in dealing with the changes their children are undergoing."
An analysis of findings of the Education Ministry's audit committees that study every reported child suicide shows that girls are more likely to attempt suicide than boys, but boys are more likely to succeed. This finding conforms to similar data from other countries.
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