Tag Archive: mental illness

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.

Don’t Forget :)


End The Stigma


Think of a person who has a disease. Maybe you imagine a person in a hospital gown for whom surgery is imminent.  Or you might, perhaps, picture somebody with cancer about to receive chemotherapy treatment. Now, imagine a healthy person approaching one of these unfortunate individuals who has been plagued by an illness. He or she will most likely treat the ill patient with sympathy and respect, feeling sad for this individual who is fighting such an illness. However, there are people with certain illnesses who are less likely to receive this respect. These are the individuals who are the victims of neurological and mental illnesses.

Why are people suffering from mental and neurological conditions prone to being treated with so much disrespect? Only because we cannot see the physical effects of the sufferers’ diseases on their bodies, does it mean that they are not suffering from a disease? The brain, just like nearly any other organ in the body, is capable of being diseased, whether the disease is congenital or begins to manifest itself during the person’s life (Silton, et al., 2011). It is illogical then to refer to patients with diseases such as Autism and Down’s syndrome with slurs, when we would never think to degrade a heart-disease patient in such a manner. The difference is only the body part which is diseased, but the offense towards the neurological or psychiatric patient is much higher.

Unfortunately, oftentimes today, although much less than in the past, patients who suspect to suffer from, or even those who are already diagnosed with, a mental illness are treated with various sorts of stigma (Martinez et al., 2011). This stigma can be directed to patients afflicted with mental and neurological illnesses of all severities, ranging from relatively milder conditions like mild mood disorders to disorders with higher severity, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (Martinez et al., 2011). Although today it is proven scientifically that a mental illness is a real ailment of the body, there are people who still dismiss the concept of mental illness as unreal and illegitimate (Martinez et al., 2011). These people often believe that mental illness is an apologetic label for a problem that one can solve on his or her own (Silton, et al., 2011). Thus, one of the most detrimental types of stigma is the hostility and social rejection a patient may receive from his or her family and others who are close to him or her. Family and close friends can view a mental illness of someone close to them as an exaggeration of a problem, and in turn, may prevent that person from receiving help, especially younger patients who are not yet self-sufficient (Perlick et al., 2011). This stigma can even inhibit patients from recovering (Wahl, 2011). This lack of sensitivity may also be prevalent in the school setting. Students with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder may be mocked by students or may be indirectly offended by those teachers who tend to favor students’ intelligence over hard work, thus putting the learning-disabled students, who may work the hardest, at the bottom of the spectrum (Silton, et al., 2011). Similarly, even polite people sometimes make jokes involving psychiatric wards and “insane” asylums (Silton, et al., 2011). These are derogatory and should simply not be made.

There are laws in the United States against discrimination. These laws affect individuals with intellectual and mental disabilities, in addition to those with any other disabilities and generally people of any race, religion, gender, or lifestyle (Womenshealth.gov, 2010). A major law that protects the rights of such people is the American Disabilities Act (Womenshealth.gov, 2010). The implication of this law within the parameters of mental illness is the prohibition of patients with mental illness to be treated any differently than other people, unless there is a medical or practical reason. Our society has extended these ideas to make a mutual effort as a society to stop the use of slurs. While many words are widely accepted as derogatory, and there has been a significant decline in the past years of usage of debasing words of racial and religious nature among educated people, there is one word carelessly thrown around that may be equally offensive, if not more so. This is the word “retarded”.  The word “retarded” is said very often these days, often without thinking of its meaning (Special Olympics 2011, 2011). Many people— especially, but not exclusively, youth— use this word to mean “stupid” or “dense” when referring to either a person or even an object. The root of the word retarded is ­-tard- , which in Latin means “slow” or “late”. Those with neurological disorders which affect their cognition, behavior, and social aptitude were originally referred to as having “mental retardation” (Special Olympics 2011, 2011). Due to the offensive misuse of this term, it is being replaced with other terms, such as “intellectual disability” (Special Olympics 2011, 2011). Patients were called retarded because they or their brains were developing slower than a normal human is supposed to develop. Many people, however, don’t even think of this. It frequently doesn’t come to the mind of ordinary people that they are blessed with the health that they have and that there are those less fortunate who are slower in developing.  However, even though there are many who are aware of the hurt that they are causing by using this word, they are too indifferent to stop this behavior. For this reason, the “R-Word” Campaign, which is sponsored by Special Olympics, Inc. and is aimed to prevent people from using the word “retarded”, was started (Special Olympics 2011, 2011).

Therefore, it is our job to treat neurological and psychiatric patients with the respect that they deserve. It is not okay to debase and humiliate patients who are already dealing with many challenges and for many of whom it is nearly impossible to participate in a normal life. Rather, we should look at them with admiration for what they are trying to make out of their somewhat limiting lives. Whether it is an intellectually disabled student working hours to achieve academically, or an ambitious Special Olympics athlete, or a teen with Asperger’s Disorder making a large effort to learn social skills and make friends, we should be proud of them for what they have accomplished and what they continue to accomplish. By changing our speech and attitude, we can influence those around us to also change their speech and attitude to respectful, rather than demeaning, of sufferers of mental or neurological disease.


Wahl, O. (2011). Stigma as a barrier to recovery from mental illness. Trends in Cognitive     Sciences, Volume 16, Issue, 1 9-10. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S136466131100235X.


Martinez, A., et al. (2011). Mental Illness Diagnoses, Ascribed Humanity, and Social Rejection. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2011, 1-23. Retrieved from http://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/jscp.2011.30.1.1.

Perlick, D., et al. (2011). In Our Own Voice–Family Companion: Reducing Self-Stigma of Family Members of Persons with Serious Mental Illness. NAMI of Connecticut, 1-3. Retrieved from http://namiofconnecticut.com/uploads/perlick.pdf.

Womenshealth.gov, an affiliate of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Mental Health: Americans with Disabilities Act and Mental Illness. Retrieved from http://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/your-rights/americans-disability-act.cfm.

Silton, et al. (2011). Stigma in America: Has Anything Changed?: Impact of Perceptions of Mental Illness and Dangerousness on the Desire for Social Distance: 1996 and 2006. Volume 199, Issue 6, 361-366. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/jonmd/Abstract/2011/06000/Stigma_in_America_Has Anything_Changed_Impact.1.aspx.

Special Olympics 2011. (2011). WHY PLEDGE: What is the R-word and Why is its Use a Problem? The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation for the Benefit of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.r-word.org/r-word-why-pledge.aspx.