Widely reported 50 Nova suicides story ‘not correct’ says Israeli psychologist

A psychologist working with festivalgoers has deep concerns about survivors’ mental health


More than 360 Nova festivalgoers were murdered by Hamas while at least 40 were taken hostage (Photo: Getty Images)

A psychologist working with survivors of October 7 has warned that those who witnessed the carnage and escaped urgently need more support following a claim – which officials stressed is untrue – that some 50 survivors of the Nova music festival have taken their own lives in the wake of the massacre.

Speaking earlier this month at an Israeli parliamentary hearing on the treatment of the survivors of October 7, a Nova festivalgoer spoke about the severe impact that the terror attack has had on many of those who managed to escape and told MKs that dozens of traumatised attendees had ultimately ended their lives.

"Few people know, but there have been almost 50 suicides among the Nova survivors. This number, which was true two months ago, may have increased since," Guy Ben Shimon said.

“There are many survivors who had to be forcibly hospitalised due to their psychological state. My friends are not getting out of bed, neither am I,” he added.

The claim, which was then widely reported by several media outlets, was refuted by Israel’s Health Ministry, which said in a statement: “Figures of the number of suicides and the number of those institutionalised among survivors of the Supernova festival are not known to the Health Ministry and the medical system and are not correct.”

Dr Gilad Bodenheimer, director of the ministry’s mental health division also insisted that the figure was “not correct” and said this was “made clear during and at the end” of the Knesset hearing.

During the hearing, Bodenheimer said: “We know of only a few cases of suicide. We must be cautious with numbers that could do public damage.”

The ministry checked with groups who that have been treating Supernova survivors, as well as with the Tribe of Nova Foundation, which was set up following the massacre, and found no basis for the claim, according to Bodenheimer.

Reut Plonsker Fridman, a clinical psychologist at the Health Ministry, stressed that while the number was almost certainly not correct, the survivors “need a lot of help”,

“I heard the rumour [about the number of suicides before], said Plonkser Fridman, who is also vice-president of clinical services at SafeHeart, a charity set up to help survivors of October 7.

“[Ben Shimon] didn’t make it up. But he does not work for the government or for an organisation – he is a survivor going through trauma.”

Plonsker Fridman, who said she “does not know of any” deaths by suicide among survivors, personally acknowledged that she “cannot know how many” people caught up in the terror attacks have ended their lives.

“[Ben Shimon] gave a number which is not true, but it is true that they need a lot of help,” she said.

The psychologist is deeply concerned about survivors’ mental health and fears that some may have latched on to the number they have heard: “It’s very difficult for survivors, it is very sad and frightening, they have anxiety and are panicked about their friends. They fear it [suicide] could happen to them.”

There were an estimated 4,000 revellers at the desert festival; 364 of them were murdered by Hamas and at least 40 were taken hostage, according to the Israeli authorities.

Today, some survivors cannot sleep or leave their homes, while many have not been able to work since the atrocities, and some have turned to drink and drugs, according to Plonsker Fridman. Numerous survivors are exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Plonsker Fridman is one of approximately 300 therapists across Israel working with SafeHeart to help 900 patients. In the fortnight after October 7, some 500 therapists worked pro bono with 2,500 survivors.

Addressing the Knesset, one survivor, Naama Eitan, said: “I sleep on average two hours a night. Each morning at seven o’clock, I relive the moments when I was hidden in the bushes with terrorists passing by me. I can no longer move on my own, I need to be constantly accompanied.”

Ben Shimon said: “I am practically unable to do anything. I had to get a dog to help me survive in my daily life. The goal for all of us is to return to work and function normally, but we cannot do it without adequate help.”

Survivors can receive up to 36 therapy sessions funded by the state. Now some of those who cannot work are trying to navigate the Israeli disability allowance system.

“This is a more difficult process because you have a committee who must be certain about you and your situation,” Plonsker Fridman said.

Many partygoers at Nova were said to be on mind-altering drugs including MDMA, ecstasy and ketamine; some mixed different substances and planned their “drop” for sunrise –about the time as when the terrorists descended on the music festival.

“This is the first time we are experiencing trauma on drugs,” said Plonsker Fridman.

SafeHeart is currently conducting research with the University of Haifa into how the use of psychedelic drugs is affecting the survivors’ experience of trauma.

The preliminary research, which is undergoing peer review, indicates that survivors who had taken MDMA are recovering better and showing less severe symptoms of PTSD than those survivors who took other substances.

Commenting on the research, Professor Roy Salomon, who leads the “Lab of Consciousness and Self” at Haifa University’s department of cognitive sciences, told Israeli news site ynet: “We wanted to reach as many people as possible, as fast as we could. Initial intervention with treatment by qualified professionals is important in reducing the transition from trauma to post-trauma. Because we come from within the trance tribe, people saw we cared, opened their hearts and told us things they perhaps wouldn’t tell a health service psychologist.”

He added: “I have a personal connection, both theoretical and practical, to raves and psychedelics. I’m connected to the community.”

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