Teen mental health crisis center opens at Ichilov Medical Center

In Tel Aviv, Hofim Center’s short-term, intense therapeutic model aims to address major increase in depression, anxiety, OCD and other disorders seen in Israeli youth post-COVID

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Staff of the new Hofim Center for youth in psychiatric crisis at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. (Miri Gattenyo/Ichilov Hospital)
Staff of the new Hofim Center for youth in psychiatric crisis at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. (Miri Gattenyo/Ichilov Hospital)

Ichilov Medical Center and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality have partnered to open the first day treatment center in the city for teens in emotional and psychiatric crisis. Unlike most other intensive treatment centers for youth around the country, it requires only half-day attendance for several months, so that patients remain vitally connected to their home and school environments.

The Hofim Center is for children ages 12-18 in primary emotional crisis manifested by anxiety, depression, OCD, mood disorders and social difficulties, who live in Tel Aviv and its immediate environs. The center is for patients for whom ambulatory treatment in the community has not sufficed, and who are referred by a medical or educational professional. Treatment is covered by the health maintenance organization to which the child belongs.

The center’s program is for youth in crisis who are expected to respond positively to treatment and return to regular, healthy lives (with continued community-based counseling as needed) after 12-16 weeks. It is not for youth with more complex and chronic psychiatric conditions such as anorexia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, or substance abuse. Although severely short on available places, Israel has hospital in-patient and full-day outpatient programs for children and teens with those illnesses.

According to the Hofim Center’s director Dr. Reut Gilad, the center was established in response to the huge increase in the numbers of youth ages 12-18 exhibiting psychological and psychiatric problems during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Both here in Israel and abroad there is a very significant increase in mental health difficulties and distress for young people, especially for those ages 12-18 who were hardest hit [emotionally] by COVID because they were disconnected from all their social ties — friends, classmates, and teachers. They were isolated at home and lost their usual routines and frameworks. And in some cases being at home all the time worsened preexisting tensions within the family,” Gilad said.

According to Gilad, there are studies in progress in Israel and internationally to determine the extent of the impact of the pandemic on teenagers’ mental health, but in the meantime, health professionals, educators, and parents are reporting huge upticks.

Music therapy at the new Hofim Center for youth in psychiatric crisis at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. (Miri Gattenyo/Ichilov Hospital)

“We are seeing a combination of kids who were already struggling with mental health problems whose situations have worsened, as well as kids who are exhibiting issues for the first time,” Gilad said.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said in a statement that city leadership felt it was important to provide the building for Hofim Center in response to “the genuine need that has arisen.”

The center, located next to Ichilov in the WIZO compound at the corner of Weizmann Street and David HaMelech Boulevard, had a soft launch several months ago with 12 patients. It can now serve up to 24  — half in the morning program and half in the afternoon.

The morning program is for youth who are currently not able to go to or function in school. Those who attend school come to the center in the afternoon. Regardless of the group they are in, all teens are expected to attend five days a week.

“We have young people who start in the morning group but move into the afternoon group as their condition improves,” Gilad noted.

A room at the new Hofim Center for youth in psychiatric crisis at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. (Miri Gattenyo/Ichilov Hospital)

An individualized treatment and educational plan is created for each teen and can include individual, group, and family psychotherapy. There are also music, art, and occupational therapies. Psychiatric treatment is also provided.

Gilad said that only similar program to the Hofim Center is at  Shalvata Mental Health Center in Hod Hasharon.

“Something that is unique in our center is the required presence of one parent. A parent must be present the whole four hours the child is here, but not necessarily with the child. They participate in private and group therapy sessions and other interventions, and we have a special room for parents so they can sit there and also do some work,” Gilad added.

The new Hofim Center for youth in psychiatric crisis at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. (Miri Gattenyo/Ichilov Hospital)

Whatever the specific makeup of a patient’s personal treatment plan, it is designed to overcome the crisis and help the teen get back to functioning well at home and school in just a few months.

Shirley Rimon Bracha, head of the Tel Aviv Education Administration, praised the center’s therapeutic approach, especially for its close integration with a student’s regular educational framework.

“With teens going home every day to their families and Hofim Center’s closely coordinating with the teens’ regular schools, the transition back into their full-time studies should go smoothly,” she said.

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