The Jewish Education

Stigma Of Mental Illness In Jewish Families

To belong to a Jewish family who was stereotyped as being “neurotic,” the social situation is not always comfortable.  The teasing, friends, and classmates talking behind your back are kind of hurting.  I literally had no one to talk to about my sadness.  Things got even worse when tragedy struck our family.


High school was about to end when my older brother (who was 20 then) committed suicide.  His death shattered our family mentally and emotionally.  I never did imagine that he would take his own life.   The emotional pain wreaked havoc in my mother’s health.  It was an unimaginable situation he put us in.  Seeing what his suicide has done to my parents, I promised myself not to do the same, no matter how severe and depressing our situation becomes.


Months passed, we are still in the emotional plunge.  I even asked myself, “Will we ever recover from the loss?”


I tried hard to keep things together to at least put life back into our family.  It feels like putting on a mask of a happy face, which I put off whenever I was alone in my room or outside the home.  I began to alienate myself from my friends.  I even cut classes and started to drink and do terrible things.  My parents did not seem to notice that I was beginning to become a different person.  No one asked how I was doing or if I was okay.  Unaware of my mental state back then, I never sought help.  I couldn’t even openly talk about my sufferings.


It was my teacher who first noticed the changes in me.   She talked to me, but I was reluctant to open up to her.  But with her kind heart and support she had shown me, I started to feel comfortable.  She told me her story, and I began to feel I was not alone.  With her help, I was able to talk to my parents about my mental condition.  My parents were so sorry for they feel they had neglected me because they lost a son.


My teacher advised my parents that I needed to see a psychologist.  I thought it was a shameful thing to see one.  I was afraid that my friends and classmates would give me that look as if I was crazy.  And besides, I didn’t feel comfortable telling a stranger about my life, my inner thoughts, and my feelings.  But seeing my parents’ persistence for me to get treated, (and I know they fear of losing me too), I agreed to see a therapist.  In time, with a kind and caring therapist and a pill a day, I slowly felt better.


Stigma Of Mental Illness Separates You From Everyone Else

It’s not just the Jews who feel shameful struggling with mental health disorder.  In fact, according to statistics, about one in five Americans is affected by some form of mental illness.  To some, they see mental illness as some form of weakness or just a bad attitude.  They don’t understand that it is something, we can’t control.  It feels like there’s a battle inside of you that you can’t reconcile.


Other people’s judgments put us in fear, shame, and embarrassment.  These feelings sometimes lead sufferers (like my brother and me) to conceal their conditions, avoid seeking treatment, and worse just end the suffering by committing suicide.


I read in an article that Jews make up 29% of American psychiatrists.  As a matter of fact, Jews, in the likes of Sigmund Freud, have significant influence in the field of psychology.  But this does not free the Jewish community to be comfortable discussing their psychiatric conditions with someone else.

It is hard for a family (Jewish or non-Jewish) to lose a member, especially to suicide.  Looking back, I realized that if my brother didn’t do it, I would have.  He kind of saved me from doing a thing that I had been planning which I might regret later.


In our family, the idea of getting therapy was not welcomed at first.  There are others in our family whom I observed were also suffering from psychiatric illness, but it was just ignored and never discussed.  I was the first, and hopefully, not the last.  I wanted our family and all other families to be freed from the stigma caused by mental health disorders.

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