One third of the people who committed suicide in Israel over the past decade were olim (new immigrants), despite the fact that olim account for only 20% of the population. This statistic, which appears in a report published by the Health Ministry in 2016, was presented on Tuesday to the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.
According to the report, between 2000 and 2013, some 1,658 immigrants committed suicide. Of those, a quarter arrived from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, and from 3% to 8% came from Ethiopia in the 1980s.
Committee Chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) stressed that these populations are at higher risk of suicide due to the lack of a supportive environment, as well as difficulties in acclimation and in livelihood. He urged Israel’s more established citizens to “be attentive and supportive to the immigrants they know, and sometimes a smile and a good word can make the difference.”
MK Neguise also noted that many immigrants do not know whom to turn to for help during a crisis.
According to the National Council for the Prevention of Suicide, which established a special committee to prevent suicide among immigrants, Israel’s Welfare Ministry lacks a cross-sectional database of immigrants and strategies to prevent their committing suicide. A representative of the council said that the Health Ministry also lacks data on immigrants in the frameworks of mental health services, clinics, psychological services, psychiatric and general hospitals.
MK Yakov Margi (Shas), who initiated the debate, said special attention must be paid to young immigrants and to ensure that the government offices provide a focused response to this sub-group.
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp) mentioned how difficult it is for the Eran organization, which operates a crisis hotline providing psychological first aid, to recruit volunteers who can assist people who speak a foreign language.
Mira Keidar, director of the Welfare and Human Resources Department of the Jewish Agency, mentioned a two-year research project which examines government ministries’ response to this problem, and made clear that even in entities that deal with suicide prevention, there is usually no focus on the immigrant population, and no focus on working with different cultures or in different languages.
Eran Executive Director David Koren noted that his organization does not have even one volunteer who speaks Amharic, “despite the great need” for such volunteers. The organization has only one Russian-speaking volunteer, he said.
Avshalom Aderet, chairman of the non-profit organization The Path of Life, called for finding solutions for families of people who committed suicide, particularly immigrant families.
Prof. Gil Zalsman, chairman of the National Council for Suicide Prevention, mentioned the drop in the number of immigrant soldiers who commit suicide, while Johanna Diane of Qualita, an umbrella group of 12 French immigrant associations in Israel, stressed that most people do not know what to say to people who show signs of distress or talk about suicide.