How Israel Is Coping With COVID-19
September 8, 2020
An interview With Dr. Ella Cohn-Schwartz, of BGU’s School of Public Health, on resilience and coping in Israel
Psychology Today (excerpt) — As the number of new cases of COVID-19 increases in Israel, people are learning to cultivate resilience in both familiar and new ways.
Ella Cohn-Schwartz, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in BGU’s Gerontology Program in the School of Public Health.
Dr. Cohn-Schwartz focuses on the social activities and relationships of older adults, and on the effects of the social environment on mental health, cognitive function and aging perceptions.
She harnesses cutting-edge statistical methods to extract novel insights from large population-based surveys, aiming to facilitate productive, healthy aging.
For example, she has demonstrated the importance of creating new relationships and helping others in old age, contrary to the common misperception of old age as a time of losses and passiveness.
Jamie Aten (JA): What are some ways understanding Israel’s COVID-19 situation can help us live more resiliently?
Ella Cohn-Schwartz (ECS): In our commentary paper we describe the situation of Holocaust survivors in Israel during the pandemic. Survivors are often found to be vulnerable to negative events due to the trauma they’ve suffered, but their past experiences can also make them resilient and teach them how to cope with future adversities.
In the context of the current situation, we emphasize that Holocaust survivors should be encouraged to optimize their skills and resources to foster effective coping with the pandemic.
But such an approach is not only relevant to Holocaust survivors. It can be applied to older adults in general during these difficult times.
In Israel, many older adults have lived through traumatic experiences. Many adults have developed resilience and learned how to deal with hardships, and they can draw on their past experience to gather insights on coping with the current situation.
Along these lines, preliminary results from a survey I conducted in Israel among adults aged 50+ indicate that the pandemic has not been negative for all adults.
The results show that some adults expressed positive experiences, such as spending more time with family and easing the pressures of everyday life.
JA: What are some ways people can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic?
ECS: The main point arising from my research is the importance of an active perspective towards coping.
It is advisable to see the positive aspects of the COVID-19 situation, such as an ability to spend more time with family members, and actively seek to maintain and enhance one’s supportive social relationships.
One way to cultivate meaningful social ties in these times is via online groups.
I’m involved in a project that offered online groups to older adults, in which they could share their hardships with each other, as well as learn relaxation and mindfulness techniques and cognitive-behavioral coping strategies.
Such groups alleviated loneliness and depressive symptoms among older adults, indicating the effectiveness of online social interactions and of learning coping techniques.
Additionally, it is recommended to employ holistic approaches to address the different needs of individuals.
In Israel, NGOs are providing support to survivors by phone and video in either individual or group formats. Practitioners use holistic approaches to emphasize older adults’ strengths, including psychotherapy, online group activities (e.g., social support meetings, physical activity classes) and provision of information.
We should acknowledge the potential vulnerability as well as resilience of older adults and strive to cultivate their strengths to foster better coping and overall health.