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Study Reveals Spike in PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety Among Israelis After 7th October Attack

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A recent longitudinal study has highlighted the profound mental health impact of the 7th October 2023, terrorist attack in Israel. The study, which assessed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) among Israeli civilians, provides crucial insights into the psychological aftermath of the attack. The findings were published in the journal eClinicalMedicine.

The 7th October attack, which resulted in over 1,300 deaths and 240 kidnappings, has been described as unprecedented in Israel’s history. The study’s findings indicate a sharp increase in mental health issues among the Israeli population, with the prevalence of probable PTSD almost doubling from 16.2% before the attack to 29.8% after. Similarly, the prevalence of probable GAD and depression rose significantly, from 24.9% to 42.7% and 31.3% to 44.8%, respectively.

The study involved a nationally representative sample of 710 Israeli adults, both Jews and Arabs, aged 18 to 85 years. Conducted at two time points – 6–7 weeks before the attack (T1) and 5–6 weeks after (T2) – the research aimed to assess the immediate mental health consequences of the attack.

One of the study’s key findings was the significant mental health impact on those with direct exposure to the attack. Participants who were present in the Gaza envelope communities during the attack had a threefold increase in the likelihood of presenting with probable PTSD and a twofold increase in the likelihood of presenting with probable depression.

Interestingly, the study also found that pre-existing psychological conditions played a crucial role in the aftermath of the attack. Individuals with pre-attack symptoms of PTSD, depression, and GAD were at a higher risk of developing these conditions post-attack. For instance, having PTSD symptoms before the attack increased the risk of probable PTSD by two times.

The findings underscore the widespread impact of the attack, which extended beyond those directly exposed to the traumatic events. The study revealed that the mental health effects were felt across a significant portion of the population, affecting both Jews and Arabs. This broad impact classifies the attack as a mass trauma event, necessitating a comprehensive mental health response.

The study’s authors emphasise the urgent need for multi-layered screening and intervention strategies to address the mental health needs of the population. They suggest immediate assessments for those with pre-existing psychological difficulties, followed by short-term and long-term interventions to mitigate the risk of chronic mental health issues.

To promote a sense of safety, community efficacy, connectedness, and hope, the study recommends accessible interventions at various levels – individual, family, group, and community. These interventions should be both formal and informal, involving professionals and institutions working together to support the affected population.

While the study provides valuable insights into the immediate mental health impact of the attack, the authors highlight the need for ongoing research to understand the long-term consequences. They note that spontaneous recovery or delayed onset of psychiatric symptoms may occur, making it critical to monitor the mental health trajectories of the affected individuals over time.

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