Israel Seen Badly Lacking in Suicide Prevention

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An illustration of a young woman suffering from depression.
Someone suffering from depression (illustrative)Credit: Dreamstime

The national plan for preventing suicides is at risk, says the nonprofit group Bishvil Hachayim – For Life – if the government does not ramp up its efforts.

More than two years after the current plan for preventing suicides was launched, it has not chalked up any impressive achievements. There have been no campaigns or extensive nationwide operations. As a result, there has been no drop in suicides.

Moreover, budgets are running out and no political patron has stepped in to help. Even optimists say there is a threat the program will shut down.

In 2013, Israel belatedly acknowledged the existence of the problem. The incidence of suicide in people over 15 years old is eight per 100,000.

According to the Health Ministry, 500 people a year commit suicide, with 6,000 others hospitalized for attempted suicide – amid fears that such numbers are under-reported by 23 percent.

Suicide is the second highest cause of death among men between 15 and 24; it’s the third highest cause for people between 25 and 44.

The previous health minister, Yael German, said it was time “to sweep away the stigma associated with suicide.” The cabinet approved a national plan for preventing suicides, with a budget of 55 million shekels ($14 million) over three years.

The plan involved multiple agencies but now two years later it has lost momentum. The Health Ministry’s unit for suicide prevention is overseeing the plan, headed by attorney Shoshi Hertz. It was set up in June 2014, but only a year later did recruiting for the team get in gear.

People working with Hertz praise the team’s work and its drive to promote the plan, but the team’s slow start meant a slow implementation of the plan.

A 2015 report by the Citizens’ Empowerment Center monitored the plan; it says the main goal met was the establishment of steering and supervisory bodies.

A national council for preventing suicides was then appointed; it has 40 members, including representatives of health maintenance organizations, local governments, the Israel Defense Forces and the prison service.

Also on board are parent groups, psychiatrists, social workers and representatives of Bishvil Hachayim, a group that helps families that have suffered a suicide.

But an information campaign has not been launched yet, and plans to limit access to means for committing suicide, such as weapons, are still in progress.

Also, the building of a database is also only in the planning stages, with data only available two years after a suicide occurs. Doctors and educators are expected to identify potential victims; 4,000 so-called gatekeepers have been trained to help.

The Education Ministry, meanwhile, has trained 1,300 psychologists and counsellors to help in the efforts, and there is more awareness among teachers, parents and children.

But only 40 out of 270 local governments are taking part in the plan. Some populations are considered at higher risk, such as new immigrants, but they have little access to emergency services. There are plans for setting up hotlines, but more resources are needed.

Professionals say the number of suicides can be reduced by various methods, including the training of doctors and children to identify when someone may be in distress.

Studies have shown that 60 percent of people committing suicide saw a doctor in the month before taking their lives. In places where such plans have been implemented, suicide rates were shown to drop by as much as 40 percent.

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