“Let’s face it. The secret is out. We have a problem.”
― Abraham Twerski
Welcome to RefuatHanafesh! This website is targeted specifically to Orthodox Jews, but generally to anyone affected by mental illness or curious about Psychiatry.
Medical School Revelation- Jews Also Suffer From Mental Illness
“Shalom”, “I used to wear my skullcap”, “where do you pray?”. These are just a few of the opening words I heard from patients on a Midwest psychiatry unit. I was shocked to discover so many Jewish patients, several of them Orthodox. However, even with a large presence, they had poor group participation and a protracted recovery compared to other patients. I inquired why they were not engaging in groups and they invariably responded “The people here don’t understand the unique pressures and challenges associated with being
“Shalom”, “I used to wear my skullcap”, “where do you pray?”. These are just a few of the opening words I heard from patients on a Midwest psychiatry unit. I was shocked to discover so many Jewish patients, several of them Orthodox. However, even with a large presence, they had poor group participation and a protracted recovery compared to other patients. I inquired why they were not engaging in groups and they invariably responded “The people here don’t understand the unique pressures and challenges associated with being an Orthodox Jew. They can’t understand my way of life and therefore, talking about it would not be beneficial”. I asked if they had friends to support them during flairs of illness. They replied “I could never discuss this with anyone who knows me. It would ruin my family’s reputation and destroy my children’s chance of getting a good shidduch (marriage partner)“. Not only were they sick enough to require hospitalization, but they were also unable to find any social supports to help them through it.
Patient Stories- Our Fears Are Costing Lives
More recently, someone approached me after his friend had just committed suicide. The friend appeared to be doing well and provided no warnings that he was struggling. He asked if there was anything I can do to help. Any way I could provide an outlet for those in our community who are ashamed to talk about their difficulties.
This past year, I treated a middle-aged woman with ongoing clinical depression since early adolescence. She had 5 previous psychiatric hospitalizations and had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She lamented to me how in many ways it was nice to have cancer. It was the first time in her life that she felt genuine sympathy from her parents or community. After the diagnosis, her church began making her meals and checking in on her. She exclaimed, “Never with my psychiatric admissions had I so much as received a call from someone concerned for my well being!”
The Stigma- It’s Real!
It is an unfortunate reality that mental illness is stigmatized and even more so in the Orthodox community. Every Shabbos we say a prayer for those who need a refuat hanefesh (healing of the soul). How often do we actually give someone’s name who is affected by mental illness? The fact is that most of us are afraid to talk about it. Illness of any kind is difficult to handle. All the more so when it’s disclosure can decrease a person’s stature within their community. Mental illness is real in our community, likely to a greater extent than in the general public, and ignoring it will not make it go away! We must find a way for people to feel supported and not afraid to seek help.
Time for Action- Let’s Talk About It!
It is my fervent prayer that this website provides an outlet to receive nonjudgmental support and advise while discussing struggles. By talking about mental illness we will begin to chip away at the stigma embedded within our community. The Blog will have regular posts describing mental illnesses and treatments. The Discussion Room will be for sharing experiences and information. I foresee the day when it will be just as common to say a misheberach (prayer) for those who need a refuat hanefesh as it is for those who need a refuat haguf (healing of the body).
I invite readers to contribute questions and personal stories. Lets hope that together we can make a difference and bring understanding and comfort to those who have been suffering silently for so long.