Mental Health Crisis Grips Israel: Sharp Rise in PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety After Hamas-led Attack

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In the aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack led by Hamas, Israel is grappling with a sharp increase in depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), affecting both Jewish and Arab communities, according to a study by researchers at Ruppin Academic Center near Moshav Kfar Monash and Columbia University in New York.

Mental Health Crisis Grips Israel

The study, recently published in “EClinicalMedicine 2023” by The Lancet, reveals alarming figures, indicating a near doubling of probable PTSD, depression, and anxiety in the weeks following the Hamas-led attacks. The prevalence rates reached 29% for PTSD, 42% for depression, and 44% for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), nearly twice the recorded rates just two months before the assault.

A national survey, encompassing a sample of 710 individuals aged 18 to 85, highlighted the profound psychological toll inflicted by the unprecedented terrorist attack.

Unprecedented Terrorist Attack:

The researchers emphasized the exceptional nature of the terrorist attack, describing it as “brutal, vast, and unprecedented.” The assault on southern Israel marked a turning point, breaking almost a decade of relative calm, punctuated by sporadic Israeli retaliation for rocket attacks from Hamas across the Gaza border.

Clinical psychologist Prof. Yossi Levi-Belz, leading the study at the Lior Tsfaty Center for Suicide and Mental Pain Studies at the Ruppin Academic Center, noted that the prevalence of PTSD, depression, and anxiety following this attack surpassed that reported in previous studies focusing on terrorist events, including the 9/11 attacks.

Impact on Vulnerable Populations:

The study also highlighted the disproportionate impact on individuals already grappling with psychological difficulties. Pre-existing symptoms of probable PTSD, depression, and GAD were robust predictors of increased psychological burden post-attack.

Individuals with pre-attack PTSD symptoms were found to face a doubled risk of probable PTSD in the aftermath.

Nationwide Cohort Study:

Setting itself apart from previous research, the nationwide cohort study adopted a prospective design, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of the attack’s impact. Assessing a diverse cohort of Israeli citizens, both Jewish and Arab, the study conducted surveys six to seven weeks before and five to six weeks after the attacks, using measures including PTSD, depression, and GAD.

Global Context:

The study aligns with a broader global understanding that traumatic events, particularly war and armed conflicts, can lead to a surge in post-traumatic stress and depression.

The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States serves as a stark example, with up to 20% of directly exposed or injured individuals experiencing PTSD symptoms five to six years later.

Immediate Assessment and Intervention Urgency:

Coauthor and Columbia Medical Center Prof. Yuval Neria stressed the importance of immediate assessment for those exposed to severe trauma, considering pre-attack psychological difficulties.

He emphasized the need for leaders and policymakers to allocate resources for evidence-based treatments, advocating for accessible early to mid-term interventions to promote self- and community efficacy, connectedness, and hope.

As Israel grapples with the psychological fallout from the October 7, 2023, terrorist attack, the study underscores the urgency of mental health support and intervention to address the profound and lasting impact on the nation’s well-being.


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