On Mental Health, Jewish Communities, and Stomp Out The Stigma

By: Yair Shavrick  |  February 4, 2020

By Yair Shavrick

Mental health is extremely important, and it must be cared for and attended to. However, because it is an intricate topic, it can be difficult to understand. Educating ourselves, therefore, would be beneficial. The upcoming event at Yeshiva University, “Stomp Out The Stigma,” deals with a hot topic that is usually extinguished in our communities. This event allows a few students to speak about their struggles with mental health, and how receiving help has changed their lives. I was fortunate to attend this event in 2019, where topics such as depression, bulimia nervosa, and suicidality were broached. I have always been passionate about discussing psychological struggles, but this experience was like no other. To actually hear real stories from real people, changed my life. 

Witnessing this event comes with a newfound appreciation for health, as well as for life in general. But sweet things are sometimes accompanied by sour, and this event brings some powerful thoughts to mind, related to a hot topic that is usually kept quiet in our communities. My father lives in Baltimore, a town drifting towards the yeshivish-side of the religious spectrum, and in that community, there is a conversation people are refusing to have. There have been drug overdoses within the Jewish community that are buried and hidden from the public. However, this is not limited to Baltimore. It’s in all of our communities, whether we recognize it or not, and these problems can not remain secret. I am not promoting that every family should be public about their specific cases with mental illness, as it can be tough at times, but some cases need to be shared. Mental health struggles can bring difficult situations resulting in dependence on negative outlets, such as drugs, self-harm, and suicide. People may think that leaving psychological issues unaddressed isn’t a big deal, but its effects can be catastrophic. Drug use can be deadly. This may not be directly from the drug, rather from the psychological effects of usage. The use of drugs can also be an indicator of preexisting issues. However one slices it, drug use is a serious issue which is prominent in our society. Nobody wants to talk about it. I get it. It’s a taboo topic. But lives are more important than an uncomfortable conversation. Places like Teaneck have started to broach the subject, as well as create organizations to deal with these troubling situations. 

Mental health is universal. Everyone has mental health, plenty of people have mental illness, and each individual varies in the severity of their issues. Many times the issues are identified at the most severe point, as that is when most signs are prominent. But this is also when the impacts are most hurtful, and sometimes even crippling, often in long-term ways. Catching mental health issues later can complicate treatment, as it becomes increasingly harder as problems go unresolved. It is imperative to pay attention to our surrounding friends, family, and acquaintances. The signs are there, we just need to identify them. The first step is to care for our fellow humans, and putting our egos aside to help people who cannot help themselves. Lots of times therapy is stigmatized, and people believe that someone who receives mental health help is broken. Parents may avoid therapy for their children out of concern that it may affect shidduch opportunities. When people see their friends struggling, they often may not want to approach the topic and try to get them to seek professional help, for fear of losing the friendship and owning a sense of betrayal. But, as aforementioned, preserving lives is more important than feeling uncomfortable. Broaching this topic can sting. Pushback from others who do not understand is inevitable. I’d fight for my loved ones with my life –wouldn’t you?

Stomping out the stigma of mental health must occur. The burden does not fall on one single person; it is a communal obligation for the welfare of Jews on a local, and dare I say, a global scale. We all have dreams and potential for happy lives. To refuse mental help to someone who is suffering is to deprive them of everything. The course of lives can be vastly changed by therapy. Psychological health lasts a lifetime, and can drastically change a person’s life course. Anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder can inhibit growth and education. The future of humanity lies within each individual, and better outcomes will result from better health. 

“Stomp Out The Stigma” is an incredible event that will enlighten the student body. Hundreds of people are expected to be in attendance, and for good reason. By far, it is the best event of the year. My life outlook has been altered by hearing these first-hand testimonies of survivors. Yes, survivors. Life hangs in the balance of mental health. I strongly advise you to go to this event. Even if you cannot make it, do research on mental health. Raise awareness in your communities. Not all heroes wear capes, but all of them start somewhere.