Trauma (illustrative)
Trauma (illustrative)Flash 90

A new study by University of Haifa revealed that 66.4% of Israelis living abroad reported symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the two months after the outbreak of the war which began with Hamas' brutal attack on October 7.

The researchers measured two operational scales to examine the attitudes of participants and measured participants levels of anxiety and PTSD-symptoms.

When it came to anxiety, Israelis living in Italy and Great Britain reported the highest levels during the current war at 54% and 43%, respectively, according to University of Haifa’s new study. When asked about the reasons for their distress, 43% of respondents said they were anxious about the wellbeing of their relatives in Israel serving in the IDF, while 33% said they were worried about their family in general. In a notable contrast, according to other studies cited by the authors, between 15% and 35% of Israelis living in Israel itself have reported PTSD symptoms post-October 7.

Meanwhile, 91% reported that they were exposed to anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment abroad in the two months immediately following October 7. Forty-six percent said they have hidden Jewish symbols on their person for fear that they would be harmed, 66% were afraid to go to certain places if they were visibly Jewish or Israeli, 56% feared for their safety and the safety of their children, and 40% felt insecure in school or at work because of their Israeli identity.

“Our research shows that many Israelis living abroad experienced a series of complex emotions regarding the events of October 7 and its aftermath, with many reporting high levels of trauma that even surpass some figures seen in studies examining Israelis living inside the country,” said Dr. Yael Mayer and Dr. Yael Enav, the authors of the study. “Their hardships stemmed from their concern for relatives in Israel and fear of being harmed in anti-Israel or antisemitic attacks. Here in Israel, we frequently address the concerns of victims and their immediate and extended circles. This study, though, reinforces the strong bonds Israelis abroad have with those in the country and that Israelis abroad were also extremely influenced by the October 7 attack.”

Dr. Mayer and Dr. Enav, both from the Department of Counseling and Human Development in University of Haifa’s Faculty of Education, worked alongside Dr. Ido Lurie of the Shalvata Mental Health Center, Dr. Noga Shiffman of the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center, and Dr. Ori Harel from the University of Konstanz in Germany. Together, they sought to understand the social and psychological experiences of Israelis abroad following the October 7 events, and how feelings of loneliness, a sense of belonging and social support were related to these experiences.

The study was conducted two months after the war began and surveyed 506 participants — 64% were from the U.S. and Canada; 29% from Europe; and the rest from Asia, Australia, and South America. The researchers noted that the sample doesn’t represent all Israelis abroad since collecting that data is extremely difficult due to the large and diverse Israeli expat community. However, the sample size represents a reasonable portion of this demographic since it spans many different countries and cultures.

Both men and women participating in the study shared a sense of guilt about their distance from Israel and inability to help on the ground during the country’s time of need. They also expressed concern for their families and the future of Israel, were worried about the hostages and soldiers, and felt vulnerable as both Israelis and Jews. Many Israelis living abroad expressed distress about the painful gap that exists between them and the rest of the population in their country who have continued their lives as normal; and felt that the general population in any country outside of Israel isn’t able to understand what they’re going through. Another characteristic that increased respondents’ distress was a feeling of loneliness.

“The causes for this trauma for Israelis living abroad was fear, worry and uncertainty,” the authors added. “While they’re less close to being in physical danger, they suffer from other detrimental factors such as mental anguish, fear of their environment due to antisemitic or anti-Israel sentiment and they feel as if they’re the other now even more than before. They also expressed feelings of guilt of not being in Israel. All of these feelings caused them to exhibit higher levels of distress than those actually living in Israel.”

As a result of these strong feelings of apprehension due to their Israeli identity, participants reported a high sense of belonging to Israel, with an average of 5.7 on a 7.0 scale. This strong sense of belonging correlated with acts of service for Israel with wanting to help Israel from afar.

“These results show a significant connection between Israelis abroad and the country itself,” the researchers stated. “This is a connection that was reinforced during the war, which while it caused Israelis living abroad significant distress, it also cemented their desire to find ways to contribute and support the country.”

That said, the researchers were surprised the levels of PTSD were so high.

“We were surprised by the levels of PTSD we found,” Dr. Mayer said. “We were saddened to see that so many Israelis were experiencing this amount of mental pain and that they felt the need to hide their identity or avoid visiting Jewish or Israeli gatherings or community spaces. Yet, in some ways, the data mirrors what we’ve heard anecdotally from Israeli friends and family living outside Israel post-October 7. The study’s results also emphasize the importance of strong social and community support for Israelis abroad, especially during this complex time.”