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Government debt collector reports sharp rise in suicide threats amid pandemic

Justice official tells Knesset committee 168 debtors in first 10 months of 2020 have warned they’ll take their own lives due to economic hardship, more than past 2 years combined

Illustrative: A lonely man sits on a bench in Jerusalem, May 12, 2013. (Nati Shohat/ Flash90)
Illustrative: A lonely man sits on a bench in Jerusalem, May 12, 2013. (Nati Shohat/ Flash90)

There has been a marked rise in the number of Israelis threatening to commit suicide due to economic hardship since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a Justice Ministry official in charge of debt collection said Tuesday.

While there has been an increase in the number of suicide threats in recent years, the 168 recorded up to October among debtors has passed the totals for all of 2018 and 2019, Tomer Moskowitz told the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.

Moskowitz, who heads the Law Enforcement and Collection System Authority, said he has requested that all employees be given training to identify possible suicidal tendencies when dealing with debtors.

“This won’t turn them into psychologists or therapists but it will give them the tools to deal with these critical moments with the debtor,” he said.

The pandemic has seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis lose their jobs or put on furlough, with the figure topping the 1 million mark in April before dipping a month later.

Shiri Daniel, the director of ERAN Emotional First Aid by Telephone & Internet, said her organization has also recorded a marked rise in the number of Israelis contacting its suicide hotline due to economic hardship.

Daniel said 60 percent of those contacting ERAN are young adults “who are dealing with an economic and employment crisis that has been joined by a mental crisis.”

Operators at an ERAN call center (courtesy of ERAN)

A Health Ministry official also told the committee that the ministry will put another NIS 9.5 million toward bolstering suicide prevention hotlines.

Last month, ERAN said much of the increase in suicidal calls to its hotlines was from people who didn’t have diagnosed mental health issues before the pandemic began. David Koren, the organization’s CEO, told The Times of Israel that Israelis are accustomed to living under pressure, including during wars and terror, but the combination of hardships from the open-ended pandemic is unsettling people like never before and there is “no way to compare” its mental health impact to the past.

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