Yulia Karra
December 11, 2023, Updated December 12, 2023

A new survey by the University of Haifa revealed that 66 percent of all Israeli parents are reporting symptoms of depression over the war that broke out following the October 7 attack by Hamas. 

The survey sought to examine how parents are coping with their own and their children’s feelings triggered by the war, and how these two factors are related to parental psychological distress as well as to children’s behavioral and emotional difficulties.

Six hundred respondents participated in the study. Preliminary analyses based on 307 respondents — 60 fathers and 247 mothers — show that one-third of the parents reported post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that are above the disorder’s clinical threshold.

The poll also found that 41% of parents with a partner away on reserve duty reported medium-to-high symptoms of PTSD, 40% reported severe levels of depressive symptoms and 36% showed medium levels of depression. At least 38% exhibited severe levels of anxiety and 22% reported medium levels of anxiety.

At least 30% of parents whose partner is not on reserve duty also deported PTSD symptoms. But only 19% showed severe levels of depression, and an additional 44% exhibited medium levels.

Many parents who participated in the survey also reported feeling a sense of guilt that they were still enjoying the little pleasures of life and their children were safe while others had lost the most precious thing of all.

The study was conducted by a PhD candidate Mor Keleynikov, Prof. Noga Cohen, and Joy Bentov from the Department of Special Education at the University of Haifa, in cooperation with Dana Lassri of the School of Social Work and Social Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Reuma Gadassi-Polack of the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo.

University of Haifa campus. Photo by StockStudio Aerials via Shutterstock.com
University of Haifa campus. Photo by StockStudio Aerials via Shutterstock.com

Cohen said that although Israel has “a long history of crises – wars, military operations, and the coronavirus pandemic – it is clear that the current war has created a mental health crisis on a different scale.” 

“The duration and intensity of the horrific traumatic events that Israelis have experienced since October 7 will take years to process.”

Indeed, a similar survey conducted during the coronavirus pandemic found that 44% of parents reported suffering from medium to high levels of depression, compared to the 66% in the current poll.

Keleynikov added: “A parent whose partner is on reserve duty reported 1.5 times more symptoms of parental burnout, depression, stress, and anxiety. They also reported that their children are currently experiencing more symptoms of somatization — health difficulties that are not the result of a medical problem, such as stomach aches or nausea, as well as more behavioral problems.”

She added that the symptoms stem from the worry about the partner away at war, as well as the loneliness associated with it.

A separate survey done by the RADAR (Regional Alcohol and Drug Abuse) Center of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that psycho-emotional wellbeing has deteriorated among 80% of the university students and other young adults surveyed.

One-third of those surveyed by RADAR report severe depression, 20% report suicidal ideation, and 34% report increased substance use – mostly alcohol.

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