Tag Archive: stigma

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 locally. 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 this time I heard an interpretation of it that would challenge me to think from a Jewish perspective about an issue I never associated with religion.

The rabbi, 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.

Squashing Stigma (Literally)

Courtesy of blogs.psychcentral.com

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.


If you’ve read some of my posts, you probably have noticed that I refer to people who have mental disorders as “people WITH mental illness”, “people WHO SUFFER FROM psychiatric disorders”, and the like. I specifically avoid using the words “mentally ill”. Here is why.

“Mentally Ill” is in the form of an adjective. Adjectives define people through the use of one word. You can call somebody beautiful, generous, defensive, or robust. These are all defining characteristics of human beings. However, having a mental illness isn’t an intrinstic part of a person. I am a strong advocate of the idea that one is not his or her illness. An illness is an external thing that has happened to someone. It is not WHO they are.

By saying, rather, that somebody “has” or “suffers from” a mental disorder, I am not using the illness to define them. I am saying that they “have” an issue. It is something that they are dealing with. I would never say they “are” the issue. I know that, G-d forbid, if I had a mental illness, I would want people to know me as exciting, kind, humorous, and creative. Not mentally ill. This is why mental illness is not made into adjective form. A person is greater than the illness that he or she has. You are not your illness.

Courtesy of www.medscape.org

Although I am lucky to say that I have personally never experienced mental health issues, I both know people who have AND have worked in a psychiatric setting, AND I love creative writing; so I feel triply obligated to post this poem I have once written. It is dedicated to anyone who has ever suffered from depression. Here is what you can do: When reading this poem, think of the “I” as any person close to you who is depressed and let it serve as a springboard to inspire you to be there for them when they need you.

Oh, inner monsters inside my head- how long will you intrude my days and nights?

How long will you continue to tear up my sense of self and my happiness?

You disease of the mind- how long will you rob me…rob me of life?

How long will you grasp my conscience, so that I cannot think for myself as I had done before?

Tell me, where did I lose myself?

Where did my happy old self disappear to?

I thought I knew myself, until a spirit had captured me, into a world of darkness.

Until I have become swept in a terrible illusion, in which the world is always a half empty cup.

Where the world is a horrible place.

Where I am hated.

Why do I suddenly believe this?

Why is this illusion so easy to be swept by now?

This is an illusion which leads to an even worse reality-

A reality where nobody understands me.

They don’t see these demons inside of me, they do not comprehend why I behave so differently now.

They do not know.

They do not have a clue why I act this way.

They do not have the awareness that it’s not my fault.

They do not sympathize with me.

But they do see me as an inconvenience.

As an impediment.

As a plague in their daily life.

Rather, what hurts the most is what they disregard in me.

Because according to them I am not a person.

I am a disease. A disaster. A dungeon of darkness.

A deadly doom.

However, I still believe that I am a teenager, with goals and ambitions.

I believe that I am a dreamer capable of whatever lies in my desired path.

I am an achiever.

I am a friend.

I am a champion.

But most of all, I am a fighter.

Don’t Forget :)


Standing Up to Stigma

 Courtesy of mentalhealthresource.blogspot.com