newsIsrael at War

Their loved ones captive, they saw their own health deteriorate

About 80% of the abducted families' women reported a deterioration in their health.

Israelis attend a rally at "Hostage Square" in Tel Aviv calling for the release of Israelis held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, Feb. 24, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israelis attend a rally at "Hostage Square" in Tel Aviv calling for the release of Israelis held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, Feb. 24, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

The families of the captives held in Gaza on Sunday marked 143 days of struggle for the release of their loved ones. One hundred forty-three days of uncertainty, unrelenting worry, and conflicting reports about progress in negotiations to free the hostages. All this takes a toll on the families’ health.

A survey conducted by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum in cooperation with Maccabi Health Services shows how much the families’ medical and mental state has deteriorated since their loved ones were abducted. The women in the families who responded to the survey reported giving up on routine tests, losing weight, suffering from sleep difficulties, and taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

The situation takes its toll

The survey was conducted in January among the abducted families’ women and an additional group of volunteers at the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, compared to a control group of women in the general population.

About 80% of the abducted families’ women reported a deterioration in their health, with 62% describing it as moderate or bad. This percentage is four times higher during the war compared to before the war (15%). Furthermore, 86% of the abducted families’ women delayed or gave up a doctor’s appointment or a pre-scheduled medical exam, which is twice as high compared to the general population (about 40%).

The stress also affects sleep and eating habits: About a fifth (21%) of the families’ women and headquarters volunteers reported significant weight loss. This is 10 times higher compared to the general population. Eighty-eight percent reported worsening eating habits—almost twice the change in the general population.

Almost all the families’ women who responded to the survey reported a decline in their sleep quality, with the dramatic figure of 93% whose sleep was harmed since the events of Oct. 7. Fourteen percent of them testified to taking sleeping pills with a prescription.

Almost all the abducted families’ women (96%) reported a deterioration in their perception of their mental state, with about two-thirds describing it as moderate or bad, compared to before the war, when about 80% reported their mental state was very good or excellent. There is also a deterioration in mental state among the abducted families headquarters’ volunteers: 81% report a deterioration in their perception of their mental state, and 70% describe their mental state as moderate or bad.

Eighty-four percent of the abducted families’ women feel they need mental health assistance from a professional (compared to 23% of the general population), of which about two-thirds do receive assistance.

It also emerges that the use of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications among the families’ women has doubled: Almost a fifth (19%) of the abducted families’ women use medications to treat depression or anxiety, whereas before Oct. 7, only 8% of them needed treatment.

‘The lack of knowledge exacts a price’

“The survey describes the difficult situation that the abducted families deal with every day. Our mission and duty is to accompany, support and assist them as much as possible, to try and ease their suffering even a little,” says Dr. Eran Rotman, deputy CEO at Maccabi Health Services and head of its Health Division.

“Maccabi stands by the abducted families at all times and provides them, as well as Israelis who returned from captivity, with full medical care, both physically and mentally,” Rotman adds

Professor Hagai Levine, the Hostage and Missing Families Forum’s healthcare director, explains, “Not knowing what happened to their loved ones who were abducted takes a heavy toll on the families, and harms their physical and mental health.

“The uncertainty and distress that accompany the families may lead to sleep and appetite disorders, and exacerbate existing medical conditions due to increased stress. Emotionally, the ongoing search and ambiguous loss arouse prolonged grief, anxiety and depression, overloading family relationships,” Levine says.

“Every day that passes exacerbates the situation and shows that for the families, time is running out as long as the abducted are not released. The Families Headquarters volunteers to help families cope with the horrific consequences of the abduction.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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