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Research at Tel Aviv University: The legal revolution creates trauma for its opponents

The first study of its kind in Israel examined the impact of the legal revolution on the mental health of Israeli citizens

Balfour protested. Photo: Avi Blizovsky
Balfour protested. Photo: Avi Blizovsky

Pioneering research, conducted at the School of Social Work at Tel Aviv University, indicates a negative effect of the legal reform on mental health, especially among those who oppose it. The study examines diverse questions on the issues of legal reform, mental health and experiences within the protests related to legal reform. The research findings indicate that the opponents of the reform actually experience a state of acute stress, which has reactions that characterize people who have undergone trauma.

Among other things, they experience symptoms such as recurring disturbing experiences related to the condition, difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, nervousness and irritability, and there has been a significant increase in the use of psychoactive substances (smoking, drinking alcohol, use of prescription sedatives and use of non-prescription drugs). The researchers point out that "the obvious picture is of symptoms of distress and depression that significant proportions of the public feel, and this situation may have consequences in the long term as well."

The study was conducted under the leadership of a team of researchers specializing in the fields of mental health, stress, trauma and social policy from the School of Social Work at Tel Aviv University: Prof. Karni Ginzburg, Dr. Nega Zur, Prof. Guy Shilo, Prof. Bel Gabriel-Fried, Prof. Yael Binyamini , Prof. Liat Hamma, Dr. Lia Levin, Dr. Hagit Sinai Glazer.

A unique situation that has not yet been explored

Dr. Nega Tzur explains that "the situation in Israel now is unique and in fact there are not many studies in the world on the emotional, mental and functional consequences of a national crisis based on the attitudes of large sections of the public who believe that this is a change of regimes and the weakening of democracy. In fact, this is a situation where for those who oppose the legislation, the government's activity can be perceived as a violation of basic social arrangements, as a real threat to the freedom of the individual. A feeling can arise among the public that the government betrays their trust, since it does not work to promote their rights and well-being. Such situations, and what is evident from the feelings on the ground, can lead to great distress. From here we set out to research."

As part of the study, the researchers collected the data in the week when Israel was in turmoil following Minister Galant's dismissal announcement, the protests intensified, the first large protest by supporters of the legal reform took place, and after the decision to suspend the program for negotiations.

The research sample consisted of 876 respondents, who constitute a representative sample of Israeli society in terms of socio-demographic indicators (such as age, gender, socio-economic status, area of ​​residence, religion and degree of religiosity). In terms of these indicators, the sample represents the secular, traditional and religious Jewish population; The sub-sample, the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, are heterogeneous and represent the population in most measures.

Also, Prof. Guy Shilo points out that "among the respondents, about a third (28.4%) fully supported the proposed legal reform, about a third (32.4%) fully opposed the reform, while the others are divided into two groups - and they are people who partially oppose or partially support the reform Legally.

Acute stress prevails in the country

The authors of the study note that when examining the indices related to mental health, clear differences were found between the four groups in the indices of depression, acute stress, and the challenge of basic beliefs in relation to life. Thus, clear differences can be seen between those who oppose the legal reform (fully or partially), and those who support it (fully or partially) in the items of the depression questionnaire. The opponents of the reform experience irritability, anxiety, stress, depression and hopelessness, inability to stop worrying, and lack of pleasure and interest, at significantly higher rates compared to the supporters of the reform. 

Prof. Karni Ginzburg, a researcher in the field of trauma, explains that the findings indicate that the socio-political situation in the country actually constitutes a situation of acute stress, which has reactions that characterize people who have experienced trauma. Even after taking into account factors that can explain the level of depression of the respondents, the acute stress, and the undermining of basic beliefs, significant differences (statistically significant) remain between those who oppose the reform, who reported more signs of depression, and those who support it. Therefore, it seems that these reactions of the opponents of the reform are related to the activity of the legislation itself and the meaning it has for the citizens of Israel.

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