Tag Archive: mental health

I published this article here: freshinkforteens.com/articles/healthy-body-and-healthy-soul

I am reposting my article here:

“Several weeks ago, I attended a bar mitzvah at Temple Beth El in Springfield, Mass. I listened to the recitation of the Misheberach prayer, when the congregation asks God for healing of the community’s sick. As a frequent attendee of services, I normally rush through this prayer without thinking much about its meaning. But at Beth El I heard an interpretation of it that would challenge me to think from a Jewish perspective about an issue I never associated with religion.

Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz, standing before a 200-person congregation on a windy Saturday morning, mentioned that the need for healing reflected in this prayer applies to “illnesses to which a stigma is attached.” The rabbi went on to discuss the need for Jewish communities to respect and support their members who struggle with mental health issues.

People often ask me why I am so committed to raising awareness and decreasing stigma surrounding mental health disorders when, thank God, I have absolutely zero personal experience with such issues. Of the many answers I give, I say that as a Jewish young adult I feel a sense of obligation to make a difference in the world, and mental health awareness is a cause I feel compelled to pursue.

During my research internship in a psychiatric hospital this past summer, I often thought about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and the beauty of the idea that I could link my Jewish faith with making a difference in the lives of others. The same thought runs through my mind whenever I write articles on mental health; post on my blog, “Squash the Stigma”; or donate money to research funds directed at finding new treatments for severe mental disorders. Why then, with all our talk about tikkun olam, has the Jewish community been blind — relative to other problems, at least — to issues related to mental health? Is mental health not legitimate enough of a cause to include in our definition of tikkun olam?

The Misheberach prayer includes the words “refuat hanefesh v’refuat haguf,” which translate to “healing of the spirit and healing of the body.” The fact that Judaism juxtaposes physical with mental health shows that the two are considered equal in importance. One who struggles with mental health may find it difficult to be a productive member of his or her community, just as one afflicted with a physical illness might.

Unfortunately, many people with mental illnesses will not reach out to their communities for support because of a fear of stigma. It is ironic that Jewish communities, which are the lifeline of support for many people, often fail to provide unconditional love and support for those suffering from mental disorders. As a modern Orthodox Jew I’ve always been taught that Jewish tradition must acknowledge and incorporate the realities of modern society. Mental illness is an unfortunate reality that should not be neglected by any denomination.

Jewish tradition bears a sympathetic and non-stigmatizing view of mental illnesses. The word “shoteh” is given to a person gripped by insanity, who does not have a sense of reality; he or she is not held accountable for his or her actions. Similarly, there are instances of mental breakdown in the Tanach (Old Testament). For example, King Saul becomes terrified by an evil spirit and needs to be comforted by David (Samuel I 16:14-23). From this incident we learn that altered consciousness or emotional anguish can strike anybody, and that we should aid in quelling our fellow Jews’ mental distress.

We must welcome and help members of the Jewish community struggling with mental illnesses, whether, when appropriate, we encourage them to seek professional help, or provide them with nonjudgemental outlets where they can be reminded that they are more than their illness. Mental illness should not be viewed in the Jewish community as taboo since mental illness can affect anyone regardless of religion, culture, or socioeconomic background.

Kindness towards one’s neighbor is an important Jewish value. It is logical to extend kindness to those around us suffering in silence. Judaism has also been a proponent of not judging or shaming a fellow Jew. That said, how can a community neglect the feelings of shame felt by Jews who are uncomfortable and stigmatized due to their illnesses?

The Jewish community has always prided itself on acceptance and compassion for society’s least fortunate and most marginalized. There is an unspoken rule that converts need to be treated no differently from people who were Jewish since birth. Likewise, widows and orphans are pitied almost automatically. It is time for those suffering from mental health issues to be given the same respect and understanding from their Jewish neighbors.”

Finally, today health insurance coverage was extended to cover treatment for mental health issues. It has several benefits. For one, it ensures equal treatment of inpatients and outpatients. People with disorders requiring only occasional appointments now are to be treated with as much quality care as those who reside in hospitals for a period of time. It is also important that now, many policies that apply to treatment for physical medical disorders apply to treatment for psychiatric illness as well. For example, limits on visits to providers and health plans’ co-payments now match those of regular medical care.

This will hopefully lead to better access to care for many suffering from mental illness. We already have a tough barrier of stigma to break down in order to ensure that more people get access to healthcare. The issue of cost would only make it more difficult.

This increased access due to the new insurance policy will also prevent severe disorders from escalating, because it will be easier for people to seek treatment sooner. This way, they would be able to target the disorder before it progresses and becomes debilitating.

As I began to pursue this interest in mental health more deeply, I discovered that there are more ways of looking at this field than I had thought possible, and only a multidisciplinary approach at looking at the world of mental health will solve the related problems that are pervasive in today’s world.
A knowledge of the biological bases of behavior is important, showing that much of human behavior is rooted in brain chemistry as well as genetics. It is essential for a modern discussion of mental health to acknowledge the neuroscientific aspects of behavior, for many serious disorders can be treated using medical techniques stemming from this knowledge.
Second, the interplay between culture and mental health should be examined as well. An analysis of the attitudes of different cultures toward mental health will not only broaden perspectives, but will teach people that there is not always one right answer. A major issue in mental health today is the question of “what is considered normal?” A religious belief in one culture may be branded as a bizarre delusion by psychiatrists in another.
It is vital to address the interaction between mental health and aspects of society such as the law, healthcare policy, and education. An overview of the types of professionals that provide mental health services, the most common mental disorders in the United States, and different types of therapy should be explored as well. Importantly, learning about mental health would be incomplete without discussing the stigma surrounding mental health, with a goal of increasing awareness and tolerance.

Check out this intriguing article! https://www.madinamerica.com/2012/03/i-dont-believe-in-mental-illness-do-you/

Michael Cornwall, Ph.D. argues that maybe mental illness doesn’t really exist the way we think it does! Its possible that emotional suffering and madness, no matter how extreme the extent is, are all regular parts of life, even when they are presented at near-clinical levels.

Just some food for thought.

In the past several years, there have been quite a few cases on unexpected gun violence, leading people to ask the question, why? How can we prevent this?

Of course, gun policy is one of the first few things to be addressed. Debates ensue, and solutions to ensure that guns end up only in the hands of responsible owners are proposed. After some conversation about gun control, the topic of discussion turns to mental health. All of a sudden, people who have had no prior experience, directly or indirectly, with anything related to mental health, prop up and suggest screenings and other forms of detecting mental illness in people before its too late. Unfortunately, “too late” to them only means the point at which individuals with mental disorders will commit acts of violence. Hopefully they do know that most people with mental illness are nonviolent and never cause harm.

With all this rah-rah of popular mental health talks after shootings, people begin to support the impovement of our national mental healthcare system. They think about what our country can do for those who suffer from psychiatric disorders, and at this point they seem like the most compassionate people in the world.

And then…boom. The mental health conversation is over and there are no more shootings for a period of time, so people occupy themselves with the next hot topic in popular politics. By the way, the mental health issues haven’t been resolved. These people who seemed ever so conscious of the suffering of mental health patients now care more for other things. No shooting means no need to take care of mental health problems in our country. Great.

As stated before, most people with mental illness are not perpetrators of violence. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims of violence. It is understandable that people want safety for themselves and their loved ones from shootings. Nobody wants their children to be in the situation of those shot during the Sandy Hook incident last winter. But for many people, the only time they actually see mental illness as a real issue is at the times of these shootings. It is as if suffering from schizophrenia is not significant enough to be treated if the patient has no violent tendencies. Its like saying, we dont care about your delusions in which you think the CIA is running after you. As long as you aren’t going to shoot us, its fine.

Mental health reform and support should be an ongoing effort. It is upsetting to see that only after a massive shooting does our country talk about mental health as a large issue. It is as if those suffering in silence from things like depression, especially during a time when there is no national discussion of mental health, don’t matter. As long as they don’t shoot anybody. Bummer.


Standing Up to Stigma

 Courtesy of mentalhealthresource.blogspot.com


End The Stigma


The Importance of Emotion

Life is enriched and shaped by many circumstances and nuances. People experience conflicts, both internal and external, and learn to cope with different situations. People go through adversity and prosperity, success and failure. These fluctuations largely characterize a person, but specifically through the utilization of emotions. Expressing emotions is not only an intrinsic part of the human nature, but is important for a person in numerous ways. Acknowledging, actively experiencing, and healthily releasing emotions is vital to one’s decision-making, communication with others, and well-being on both the physical and psychological levels.

One of the most important reasons for being aware of and healthily using emotions is that it is vital in decision making. A theory in neuroscience known as the Somatic Marker Hypothesis states that the role of emotions in decision making is based extensively in the biology of the brain. When one needs to make complex decisions in which cognitive reasoning isn’t enough, somatic markers, which are associations between reinforcing stimuli in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that induce a connected physiological affective state, help guide the decision-making process. This is because when one thinks about the consequences of his or her decisions, the reward and punishment centers in the brain are activated (Damasio 4). Emotions are one’s subjective way of viewing the world, and these subjective attitudes help a person make decisions based on what he or she feels is right, using intuition. Acknowledging all kinds of emotions and healthily expressing them is crucial, because if they are expressed in an unhealthy way or if they are disregarded, a person may make harmful decisions more readily. Anxiety, for example, is sometimes an important driving force in taking precautions. The adrenaline rush, caused by the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, that one feels when one is driving too fast will cause him or her to slow down, which is a protection from a crash and likely injury (Wehrenberg 77). By the same token, the fear someone may have about getting sunburned will presumably cause that person to put on suntan lotion, which will shield the skin from physical harm. However, it is important for people to not let certain emotional responses steer their decisions away from their true intentions, so it is important to channel the emotions in the right way. Thus, anger can be viewed in a positive way in that one can express it by proactively trying to solve the problem that is making him or her angry (APA 1). According to Kevin N. Ochsner and Lisa Feldman Barrett, “Our bottom-up emotional responses are not always appropriate for every situation, and effective emotion regulation involves both the active modification of these prepotent responses, as well as the active use of emotional responses to guide judgment and decision-making” (Neuroscience of Emotion 4). Using emotions in the decision-making process is fundamental to making worthwhile and personally relevant decisions.

Utilizing one’s emotions in a healthy and productive way is very beneficial in communication. In one study done using an fMRI, participants were given short written sentences conveying real life situations. They were asked to imagine how they would feel in those situations, as well as how their mothers would feel in them. The fMRIs showed activation in the frontopolar cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, and the right inferior parietal lobule of the participants, areas that are involved in the processes of perspective-taking and relating to others (Decety 55). Therefore, people who feel deeply can empathize more easily with others, consequently connecting with them that way (Decety 55).

Emotions draw people closer in their relationships; emotions are something people have in common. Channeling emotions appropriately contributes to positive interaction. Although negative emotions like anger are legitimate and acceptable to feel, controlling the expression of such emotions in the presence of people helps relationships to run more smoothly. According to Jean Decety, “It has been demonstrated that individuals who can regulate their emotions are more likely to experience empathy and to act in morally desirable ways with others” (Decety 57). Knowledge of how to behave around different types of people with respect to the emotions expressed around them is an aid in maintaining the appropriate relationship with each person. For example, excitement and happiness about one’s endeavors are most fitting to be conveyed to close friends, as opposed to mere acquaintances. Therefore, being emotionally receptive can contribute to a person’s empathy towards others, which is essential for understanding and connecting with others.

Healthily releasing and experiencing emotion is very important for one’s physical and emotional well-being.  Finding a healthy way to release emotion is beneficial to a person, while unhealthy ways of dealing with emotion, such as drugs and alcohol, are physically harmful. It is accordingly imperative upon one to find a healthy outlet to deal with his or her feelings, such as writing in a journal or talking to somebody about their feelings. Alcohol is an especially deleterious way to deal with negative feelings because not only can it lead to long-term consequences for the development of the brain, but it chemically removes perception of emotion so that a person can’t experience the emotion and can’t make healthy decisions based on this emotion. Several recent scientific studies correlate stress with atrophy of a section of the brain called the hippocampus, which is required for memory and cognition. Prolonged exposure to stress affects this area of the brain detrimentally, by secreting glucocorticoids, a specific type of steroid hormone, in abnormally high amounts (Sapolsky 1). Due to this, prolonged and chronic stress can weaken the immune system and cause fatigue and other illness. Emotions also contribute to psychological health. Acknowledging and experiencing negative emotion, as opposed to denying it, helps one to move forward and live fully. For this reason, contrary to the fad of “positive thinking” in pop psychology, constant optimism can be detrimental to a person. According to a study made by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman and Brandeis University psychologist Derek Isaacowitz, “pessimists were less prone to depression than were optimists after experiencing negative life events” (Lilienfeld 65). This is because pessimists are more likely to acknowledge and feel their sadness than are optimists, and therefore can move on more easily from these difficult experiences. Resilience is not defined by being happy at all costs, but rather by experiencing necessary feelings in their due time and bouncing back. This is the essence of experiencing emotion; each emotion is legitimate and should be experienced appropriately when necessary- and different combinations of emotions and their expression are what add a distinct flavor to each person. Emotions lead to self-awareness and uniqueness of the individual. One of the contributing factors to emotional responses is semantic memory, a form of long-term memory associated with meanings, ideas and concepts.  People have different semantic knowledge from one another because they have and had different experiences, and these differences in semantic knowledge contribute to the emotions that people tend to experience and ways in which they cope with these emotions (Ochsner 17). Furthermore, deeply feeling towards something shows a care and dedication to it. Therefore, emotions are a sincere way of showing love and appreciation towards people and towards other enterprises that a person is committed to. After all, if a person didn’t feel such a connection to whatever enterprise or person that may be, they wouldn’t take issues in relation to them so personally that they would feel strong emotions about them. Every person is prone to different emotional reactions and has predispositions to certain emotions over other emotions. Consciousness of which emotions one is susceptible to allows for greater predictability in how a person will act in contact with different triggers. It is these emotional differences, and varying methods of expressing them relative to the person’s preferences, that make each individual unique.

Emotions affect nearly every aspect of a person, from physical health to reasoning to social interaction. As we can deduce from Figure 1, when one experiences an emotion, the body responds in ways such as increasing blood pressure and heart rate, while the person has the choice of whether to express the emotion in a healthy or unhealthy way; and at the same time these emotions are effecting some decision to be made at that very moment and consequently defining who the person is (Kuhn 1). Therefore, to fully live life, one needs to be aware of his or her emotions and use them in a way that not only benefits him or her psychologically, but also helps him or her to make decisions and characterizes him or her as a person. Emotions show what a person is dedicated to, and the expression of them contributes enormously to a person’s mental health as well as physical health. Emotions guide a person, but at the same time the person guides his or her emotions. Every page of life is a new adventure, but it is our emotions that paint this adventure in the colors of our souls.




1. Damasio, Antonio R. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis and the Possible Functions of the  Prefrontal Cortex.” Department of Neurology: Division of Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Iowa College of Medicine (n.d.): 1-8. Web. 10 June 2012.


2. Wehrenberg, Margaret. The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008.


3. “Controlling Anger — Before It Controls You.” American Psychological Association, APA, n.d. Web. 10 June 2012.


4. Decety, Jean, and Philip Jackson. “A Social-Neuroscience Perspective on Empathy. Current Directions in Psychological Science.” University of Iowa (n.d.):  1-5. Web. 10 June 2012.


5. Sapolsky, Robert M. “Why Stress Is Bad for Your Brain.” Science- From AAS. American Association for the Advancement of Science (n.d.): 1. Web. 10 June 2012.


6. Lilienfeld, Scott O., and Hal Arkowitz. “Can Positive Thinking Be Negative?” Scientific American: Mind May/June 2011: 64-65. Print.


7. “Mind Map.” Map. Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate. International Journal of Learning and Media. 06 June 2012. Web. 10 June 2012.


8. Ochsner, Kevin N., and Lisa Feldman Barrett. “A Multiprocess Perspective on the Neuroscience of Emotion.” NEUROSCIENCE OF EMOTION; Stanford University (n.d.): 1-68. Web. 10 June 2012.