Government said to slash budget for mental health organizations

Health Ministry ending extra funding allocated during COVID crisis, but organizations say number of people seeking their services has not dropped

Operators at an ERAN call center. (Courtesy of ERAN)
Operators at an ERAN call center. (Courtesy of ERAN)

The government has slashed budget assistance to a range of mental health organizations, ending an additional funding program implemented during the COVID pandemic, according to a Sunday report.

The Health Ministry told Haaretz that the funding was cut as the pandemic is over. However, officials in the organizations say that the number of people seeking emotional support had not dropped to pre-pandemic levels.

The report said that some 15 organizations — including the ERAN crisis hotline, Natal, a support group for people and soldiers dealing with trauma from Israel’s conflicts, and the Israeli Center for Cult Victims — had a combined assistance budget of NIS 3.7 million ($1 million) before the pandemic.

They were allocated an additional NIS 9.5 million ($2.5 million) in 2020 as part of the fight against COVID, which saw a sharp jump in mental health issues as people dealt with fear and isolation during lockdowns and quarantines.

That was reduced to an additional NIS 6 million ($1.6 million) in 2021 and NIS 3 million ($780,000) in 2022 under the previous government. Now the budget will return to its original NIS 3.7 million as the current government cut the program completely.

ERAN, the largest of the groups, saw its NIS 5.5 million ($1.4 million) budget from 2020 drop to NIS 1.6 million ($420,000), an almost 70% reduction.

The Health Ministry told Haaretz that it has never funded the main activities of these private organizations.

“The Health Ministry does not support associations, but rather activities that provide mental first aid. The amount of support that the ministry provided for the issue, minus the additions from the Coronavirus period, remains unchanged,” the ministry said.

“Over the years, additional associations dealing in the field have been added and the total amount is divided between them according to the established standards for this purpose,” it added.

However, officials from the hotline said that the number of people seeking emotional support had not dropped to pre-pandemic levels and they assisted some 300,000 people over the last year.

ERAN called on the government to change the way it supports the organization and bring its funding in line with other emergency services in the country.

“The increase in the scope of activity, even compared to the pre-coronavirus years taken together with the decrease in financial funding, only emphasizes the ongoing need to anchor ERAN’s funding in the budget in a uniform and clear way, just as the other essential emergency services are budgeted by the state,” ERAN said.

Founded in Jerusalem in 1971, ERAN — the name is derived from the Hebrew acronym for emotional first aid — is Israel’s only crisis intervention hotline, serving people of all ages and backgrounds. It describes its work as a humanitarian service as opposed to professional advice.

Volunteers provide unconditional, non-judgmental support 24/7 — in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English — to Israelis dealing with violence, suicide, loneliness, family pressures, social rejection, sexual abuse, eating disorders, economic hardship, difficulties raising children, marital breakdown, trauma, harassment, school conflicts, mental illness, personal tragedies, substance-abuse, age-related stress, anxiety and more.

ERAN also offers a separate hotline for Holocaust survivors and IDF soldiers.

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