Israel's Public-sector Psychologists Critical of Government's Handling of Pandemic's Mental Health Aspects, Survey Finds

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A swing on a beach in Tel Aviv is cordoned off by police tape during a lockdown, last year.
A swing on a beach in Tel Aviv is cordoned off by police tape during a lockdown, last year.Credit: Meged Gozani
Or Kashti

Most public-sector psychologists think the government failed in its handling of mental health aspects of the coronavirus crisis, a new survey found.

In addition, 40 percent said the dimensions of the mental health problems created by the pandemic haven’t yet become clear and have not been addressed. About half deemed the third lockdown the hardest for people emotionally.

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The survey sought to examine the state of public-sector psychological services both before and after the pandemic by questioning some 700 psychologists.

On an unrelated issue, 40 percent said they work only part-time, because the low salaries in the public sector require them to also hold other jobs. Educational psychologists have been engaged in sanctions for three weeks now, in part over this issue. On Monday, the National Labor Court rejected a request for a restraining order to halt the sanctions, filed by the Education Ministry and the Union of Local Authorities.

The survey asked respondents to rate the government’s handling of three pandemic-related issues – mass unemployment, shuttered schools and the burden on medical staff – on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest. Fully 90 percent gave the government grades of one to three on all issues.

One problem many cited is that the wait for an appointment with a public-sector psychologist is at least six months. Moreover, around 90 percent said there’s virtually no public awareness of the right to obtain free psychological counseling, yet the government has done nothing to raise awareness. The same proportion said that virtually no mental health assistance was offered to either the unemployed, medical staffers or educators.

The educational psychologists’ sanctions include refusing to participate in professional committees that determine eligibility for special education and the amount of aid to which students are entitled. Protest organizers said around 7,000 such meetings have so far been canceled.

“To the workload on these committees, which has doubled following an amendment to the Special Education Law, has been added the extreme workload created by the psychological impact of the coronavirus crisis and the need for immediate solutions for children, parents and educational staff,” said Dr. Noam Yitzhaki of the Forum of Organizations for Public Psychology. “All this is happening against the backdrop of understaffing due to the low pay.”

At Monday’s National Labor Court hearing, the judges ordered the parties to update them on the progress of negotiations by next Tuesday.

“It’s a pity that following the coronavirus crisis and an outbreak of fighting, we’ve reached the point where the court has to force the Finance Ministry to resume negotiations,” said Dr. Yuval Hirsch, who heads the psychologists’ chapter of the union of college graduates in the humanities and social sciences. “This situation reflects the warped priorities of the state, which ignores the welfare of children and teens.”

The Education Ministry said it will do “everything in its powers to limit the damage to special education students and their families and the damage to preparations for the upcoming school year.”