Revealed during Absorption Committee meeting on mental health care: One third of those who commit suicide are new immigrants

”Many new immigrants experience an immigration crisis, but fear being labeled as having mental health problems, so they avoid treatment, mainly because they cannot afford the cost of private mental health care,” said the chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, MK Avraham Naguisa (Likud), during Wednesday`s meeting on the quality of current mental health care provided to new immigrants. Access to mental health care is now provided to patients through their health maintenance organization (HMO), following recent reforms.

He noted that HMOs do not have translators on their staff, ”and many new immigrants find it very difficult to receive treatment in the framework of the mental health reform.” The HMOs and the Health Ministry ”must immediately recruit therapists who speak foreign languages,” the committee chairman stated.

Psychologists and social workers in the public sector are currently striking in protest of the reforms, which they say harm both carers and patients.

MK Nagusa, who was born in Ethiopia, said while the reforms were intended to make care more accessible, it achieved the opposite in cases where patients needed short-term treatment.

MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said immigrants were ”the victims of this reform.”

Tzach Ben-Yehuda of the Knesset`s Research and Information Center presented a study which showed that approximately one-third of suicides in Israel between 2000 and 2013 were by immigrants. Of the 4,806 suicides registered in that period, 1,658 (34.5 percent), were committed by immigrants aged 15 or older. The study noted that one-quarter of those who took their own lives in that period were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, while another 3-8% originally came from Ethiopia.

The report further showed that the share of new immigrants (defined as those in the country for less than five years) among all those hospitalized in mental health centers was 8.81 percent in 2010, but it fell to 5.12% last year among men and fell from 9.85% in 2010 to 5.68% for women. This was not because they had fewer problems, according to research carried out in the Knesset, but because there are fewer social workers who speak Amharic.

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp), herself an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, told the committee of the hardships involved in moving from one country to another. The move can be traumatic and take years, she said, and new immigrants may experience loneliness, depression, acclimatization problems, culture gaps and more.

The head of the psychologists` and social workers` forum, Hannah Strum-Cohen, warned that the Health Ministry is ”misleading us” and that ”there will not be any more psychologists here in a few years. Asher Rachamim, from the Israeli Trauma Center, linked the report to the National Insurance Institute’s poverty report, also published Wednesday.

”We should not ignore the fact that in every home there is at least one person in a complicated mental state. Families do not know how to deal with this, and those who can’t see the link between a mental state and conditions of poverty are missing a significant issue,” he said.