Covid stress (illustrative)
Covid stress (illustrative)iStock

A new study conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Academic and Technology College of Tel-Hai has revealed soaring levels of anxiety among the Israeli population as compared to the pre-coronavirus era, as well as much higher levels of depression. The study also compared the effects of the first nationwide lockdown in the spring of 2020 to the second lockdown in October, and found that the mental health of respondents deteriorated significantly over the summer.

Research conducted in 2018 indicated that only one person in ten (around 12% of Israelis) reported being highly or very highly anxious. During the first lockdown, research was conducted (in May) that showed the numbers almost doubling, with 23% of respondents reporting high levels of anxiety. The latest phase of the study, referring to the second lockdown period in October 2020, showed yet another increase to 29% of Israelis suffering “extreme or highly extreme” symptoms of anxiety, in the words of the study’s authors.

Interestingly, the level of anxiety in between the two nationwide lockdowns of 2020 did not drop but continued to increase, to 27% in July of 2020, until peaking (as measured thus far) in October at 29%.

Furthermore, the number of Israelis reporting moderate levels of anxiety has also risen significantly as compared to the pre-epidemic period, from around 28% in 2018 to an average of 36% in 2020.

The study also measured depressive symptoms among respondents, and found that the number of people reporting “high or very high” levels of depression rose from 9% in the pre-epidemic period (2018) to 14% in May, 2020, to 20% in October, 2020.

“The study demonstrates the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and the severe damage to the public’s mental resilience,” the study’s authors concluded. “The sharp increase in the rate of people suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression is very disturbing. For the most part, this suggests mental damage that is not outwardly visible, and is therefore not being properly treated. It is important to emphasize that anxiety, and especially depression, are liable to negatively affect the population’s daily functioning, such as maintaining the functionality at home, working, being active in community life, taking care of health, and so on. Above all, the more people suffer from symptoms of depression, the less motivated and willing they are to cooperate and comply with the government’s mandates on social distancing or other restrictions.

“Furthermore, the study raises other questions such as: are Israel’s psychological and psychiatric institutions capable of handling a phenomenon of this scope and are they prepared to provide effective treatment to such a range of anxiety and depression manifestations? We must also ask ourselves whether people who feel depressed or anxious even try to get help for their mental state. Does the Israeli healthcare system have effective ways for identifying and treating them early, before their condition worsens? Moreover, what might be the long-term implications of these mental effects for those who suffer from them, for their immediate surroundings, and indeed for the country as a whole? These questions require immediate attention.”