Israeli Protester's Self-immolation Highlights Link Between Suicide, Financial Distress

With the attempted self-immolation of a Haifa man at a social protest, in Israel, as in the rest of the world, the current economic crisis has taken a very human toll.

The self-immolation of a Haifa man during a Saturday rally for social justice has put on the public agenda the issue of suicide prompted by financial distress.

Moshe Silman, a 57-year-old Haifa resident, is being treated at Ichilov Hospital for severe burns after covering himself in gasoline and setting himself on fire in Tel Aviv. Silman had previously suffered a stroke that left him unemployed and rejected by public housing authorities.

The apparent connection between suicide and financial distress can be seen in the 40 percent rise in suicides in Greece between January and May of 2011, when citizens of that country were hit by a serious economic crisis, as compared with the same period in 2010.

In April a 77-year-old man reportedly shot himself in front of the parliament in Athens. He said in a suicide note that he would rather die with dignity than be forced to search garbage bins for food, saying the government had cut his pension.

In Israel, the suicide rate rose from 326 in 2007 to 404 in 2009, but the increase was not necessarily related to the economy: Data in Israel does not include the reason for the suicide or the income bracket of the victim.

The low-income coastal towns of Bat Yam and Ashkelon are the cities with the most suicides, followed by the tourist destination of Eilat and mixed-income Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Nearby Givatayim, considered a high-income city, ranks No. 7.

The National Suicide Prevention Program, due to be launched next January to minimize the number of suicides in Israel, will be training workers at unemployment bureaus and National Insurance Institute branches to identify people who seem to be suicide risks and help them get treatment.

The program, which is being promoted by an interministerial committee led by the Health Ministry, will be classifying financial difficulties as a risk factor for suicide.

Welfare workers and Immigrant Absorption Ministry employees may also be trained to identify prospective suicides, especially among new immigrants.

Ethiopian immigrants are three times as likely to kill themselves as native Israelis, according to the Health Ministry.