Calls to crisis hotline triple as Israelis reel from coronavirus travails

Calls to crisis hotline triple as Israelis reel from coronavirus travails

Eran organization says callers lonely, worried about money and fearful of how long situation will last; Arabic-language hotline launched to meet increasing demand

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative picture of a lonely woman. (LSO photo/iStock/Getty images)
Illustrative picture of a lonely woman. (LSO photo/iStock/Getty images)

Calls to Israel’s main crisis hotline have tripled since daily life was upended by the coronavirus outbreak, with many callers citing loneliness, economic fears and general anxiety over how long the emergency will last.

David Koren, the director general of the Eran hotline, told The Times of Israel Monday that the hotline was receiving around 1,200 calls a day, up from 300 to 400 daily calls before the crisis.

“When I try to analyze what we are hearing, there are three prominent categories,” Koren said. “One is general anxiety and the fear of not knowing when the coronavirus crisis will end. Another is loneliness. Calls may come from people who live alone or are living with family but still feel cut off from the outside world, or people who are alone for the first time. And the third category is economic fears, people who may be on leave without pay, or don’t have work, or fear losing it.”

The calls cut across all segments of society as well as all ages, Koren said.

The 15-year-old organization provides round-the-clock initial response and emotional support by phone or online, while maintaining strict confidentiality and anonymity.

It has 1,450 trained volunteers, 180 of whom are based in North America, fielding calls from English speakers during nighttime in Israel.

It also has a few Russian-speaking volunteers, but until Monday, had no Arabic speakers to take calls in that language.

On Monday, the organization launched a much expanded Arabic-language hotline, which will run for eight hours daily and which can be contacted by dialing 1201 and choosing extension 2.

Arabic-speakers have to date been calling and getting through to Hebrew-speaking volunteers.

Eran has temporarily halted training for responders, because it is long, complex and carried out in groups. For the Arabic service, it reached out to Arabic-speaking psychologists, and gave them a half-day training course online.

David Koren, director of Eran. (Courtesy)

“They immediately understood that this is an existential, and could be a life-saving, need,” said Koren.

Two Arabic speakers are taking calls in Carmiel, in northern Israel, and as of Monday, another two had been set up with the necessary technology in the Bedouin town of Rahat in the country’s south.

The Rahat site is the organization’s 18th to operate in the country.

Eran is currently trying to raise NIS 500,000 ($135,000) to install the necessary hardware and programs that will enable all its volunteers to work from home.

Koren said there had also been an increase in calls from people wanting to volunteer for the organization.

Dr. Shiri Daniels, Eran’s professional director, told Kan TV that feelings of uncertainty and lack of control were exposing people to mental distress.

Dr Shiri Daniels. (Facebook)

It was important to assert control over information and not to be controlled by it, she emphasized — to choose when and for how long to listen to coronavirus-related news and information and to leave time to do things that are meaningful.

She recommended maintaining a routine while at home, getting up on time, getting dressed, eating regular meals and continuing with physical exercise.

She also suggesting bringing nature into the home, saying, “It’s good for the immune system and for physical and mental health. Open the windows, let the sun come in. If you have plants or flowers, maybe get busy with them. If you have pets, stroke them. These are things that give us a feeling of connection. And don’t be alone. We can do this together. That’s what we’re here for.”

She said, “Far is the new near,” in that a remote conversation was no less meaningful than one face to face.

Asked how to explain the situation to small children, Daniels said the first step was for the parents to be relaxed, because stress was immediately picked up on by children, even very small ones.

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