Survey: 25% Of Israelis Suffering From Mental Distress


depressedAbout a quarter of the population in Israel had suffered from mental distress in 2007, but only about half of those who experienced problems reported seeking professional help, a new report on the subject published by the Myers JDC Brookdale Institute revealed. The survey aimed at examining the patterns of seeking care ahead of the reform of the mental-health system under which it will transfer responsibility for providing mental-health services to the health plans. The study showed that the rates of mental distress were particularly high among the Arab population (38%), the chronically ill (33%), low-income respondents (33%), the elderly (33%), and women (31%).

A large part of those who reported suffering from distress (41%) said the situation made it hard for them to function and cope, while only 23% reported of light or moderate distress, which did not affect their ability to function.

Of the respondents who had experienced mental distress at some time, about a quarter had not applied for help at all. About a third had sought help from informal sources only (friends, relatives, members of the clergy). Forty-four percent had applied to a professional: 38% to a mainstream professional (primary physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker) and 6% to an alternative therapist.

Even among respondents who rated their mental distress as serious or very serious, only half had applied to a professional.

Thirty-seven percent of those who sought care said they had turned to their family physician, 21% to a psychologist, 15% to a psychiatrist, 13% to an alternative practitioner (mainly for acupuncture, Chinese medicine, reflexology, Shiatsu), 7% to a social worker, and 7% said they had sought another form of professional help (a physician other than their family physician, a counselor, a support group).

Most respondents (73%) said they were satisfied with the therapy, but only 40% said it helped solve their problem.

Some 24% said they had received care at a private clinic. The rest were treated by their health plan family physician or other public frameworks. Only 8% were treated at a hospital or outpatient clinic of the Ministry of Health.

In the cases examined, the waiting time for care in situations of mental distress was generally not long; 42% received care the same or the following day and 34% waited from 3-7 days; 14% waited a month, 7% from 1-3 months, and only 2% waited longer. The waiting time depended on the type of care provider: About 40% of those who applied to mental-health professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers) waited over a week compared with 10% of those who applied to a family physician or alternative practitioner.

Over half of those who experienced mental distress chose not to seek help. The main reason given was, “I thought I could cope on my own.” However, over half of the respondents also cited reasons inherent in the care system: “It’s expensive,” “The waiting time is long,” “I didn’t know where to apply,” and “Bureaucracy.”

The survey was conducted in 2007 among 1,865 respondents. The research authors noted that “there is a need to increase access to care and outreach efforts to identify people in need as part of comprehensive patient treatment integrating physical and mental aspects.”

They also wrote that “it is important to enhance the ability of primary-care physicians to identify mental distress and to encourage them to be proactive. This can be done through training and creating frameworks of professional support.” Additionally, “There is a need to address a range of barriers to care, including cost, in order to promote optimal service utilization for the population’s well-being.”

{Yair Israel/Ynet}