There is a book, a very heavy and cumbersome book, called the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM for short. This book is the bible of all mental health professionals for assisting in determining proper diagnosis for clients and patients. Within it you will find almost every possible disorder that may impact a person’s mental well-being. Although many have debated what the content should be over the course of many years, it remains primarily the same with a few additions or deletions here and there. However, there is one key element that is not stated or included in this book that perhaps speaks the loudest of all relevant factors: It does not say, “Applies only to Asians” or “Does not impact Israelis” or “Not applicable to persons of color”, and it sadly does not say “Jews exempt”. This, of course, is because these ailments and conditions are those of the Human Race, and have the potential to impact all of HaShem’s human creations equally. Why do I make this point? Quite simply because what I see in religious communities is a shade of secrecy and shame that these types of conditions exist among us. These conditions impact our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, yet even with today’s advancements people are still generally embarrassed to admit when there are problems. Very unfortunately, this stigma often delays necessary treatment and does not help break the unproductive cycle of thinking there is shame in seeking help for mentally and emotionally related issues. That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news: the secret is out and we do not need to hide. Jews do in fact suffer from mental and emotional issues of all kinds in the same ratios as the general population. We deal with child abuses, domestic violence, depression, anger management, anxiety, personality disorders, divorce, addictions, sexual issues, and general dysfunction to name a small few. We, as Jews, are not alone in that we have these challenges alongside the rest of the Human Race, and you the reader are not alone because if you are suffering so are many others living right next door or even perhaps with you. Which brings us to an extremely important question: How are religious Jews meant to seek professional help when they live within the context of an entirely unique and specific set of Jewish laws and guidelines? What about the community and rumors? How can a person trust that his or her matters will be kept strictly private? Well, many seek the help and guidance of their Rabbi which is an excellent place to start. A rabbi can provide initial comfort and reassurance, can answer religiously-based questions, and can refer you to professionals who have training to address specific needs. However, what if you don’t have a rabbi or are embarrassed to approach your rabbi? In Los Angeles we are very blessed in the matter of support for mental and emotional issues. The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and their Aleinu offices offer a variety of therapeutic services to support the community. In addition, there are many therapists in the area specializing in working with the Jewish community who are themselves observant and understand the nature and culture of religious Jews. Just off the top you’ve been given three excellent and viable options for seeking help in our community and I’m certain there are many more.
The key point here is this: if you or someone you love is suffering from a mental health issue, please do not ignore it. Do not think it will go away on its own. Do not be embarrassed. Do not stay in a state of denial. Do something to help the situation and don’t wait yet another day. Our Torah gives us values to live by, and at the top of these values is the value of life itself. Life, according to Torah, does not simply mean a beating heart and breathing lungs. Live means living. Life means contribution. Life means realizing personal potential and sharing it with others.
“V’Avraham zakein bah bayamim”, “And Abraham, the elder, came with days.”
What does it mean that Avraham Avinu, z’l, “came with days”? It means at the end of his life when he presented in the heavenly courts, he came with days rich with life and mitzvoth. It means he lived his life and brought meaning to other’s lives. He showed up. He engaged. He literally ran to do mitzvoth. If we are truly Torah observant Jews then we must recognize that we have an obligation to live our lives to the fullest and to reveal all of the greatness that HaShem intended for us. If mental and emotional issues are preventing you, or someone you love, from doing this, then you must take steps to seek help and not waste another moment. No matter your challenge, from depression to matters of shalom bayit, there are people who can help and support you. However it is your job to take the first step and ask for that help. The time has come to remove the stigma of seeking help for mental and emotional matters and it is the Torah way to support members of our families and communities as they do so.
Just as Avraham Avinu, z’l, knew the importance of living each day to its maximum potential, we must also embrace the right and responsibility we have to ensure that with proper support and guidance we too can overcome our challenges and come out stronger, wiser souls.
By Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC
Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and educator with a private practice in Beverly Hills, California. Mia is licensed in both California and Illinois and she can be reached through her website at www.bhcounselingcenter.com, e-mail at email@example.com, office 310-464-5226, or followed on Twitter