Study high­lights stigma around men­tal ill­ness

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

A NEW study says Charedi women ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health prob­lems find it harder to get the sup­port they need be­cause their com­mu­nity stig­ma­tises suf­fer­ers.

The re­port, pub­lished in the aca­demic jour­nal, Men­tal Health, Re­li­gion and Cul­ture, found that the women felt iso­lated and re­jected, and their chances of find­ing a mar­riage part­ner were re­duced.

Psy­chol­o­gist Dr Charlotte White­ley led the re­search with her Univer­sity of Sur­rey col­league Dr Kate Glee­son and Pro­fes­sor Adrian Coyle from Kingston Univer­sity Lon­don.

They found that “hav­ing men­tal health prob­lems in the Charedi com­mu­nity af­fected the chances of shid­duchim, as com­ing out with their prob­lems made them less de­sir­able op­tions.

“Peo­ple thought they were not good enough or suit­able enough to be matched up.”

The re­search fo­cused on the ex­pe­ri­ences of four women in their 20s suf­fer­ing de­pres­sion, per­son­al­ity dis­or­der and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Dr White­ley said: “No mat­ter what their prob­lem was, their ex­pe­ri­ences were all very sim­i­lar

“There was a sense that in Charedi com­mu­ni­ties, hav­ing a known or sus­pected men­tal health di­ag­no­sis, re­sulted in the per­son be­ing as­signed a lower so­cial sta­tus than peo­ple who were per­ceived as emo­tion­ally and psy­cho­log­i­cally sta­ble.”

One of the women, iden­ti­fied as Miri, 25, was di­ag­nosed with de­pres­sion and bor­der­line per­son­al­ity dis­or­der when she was a teenager.

She told the re­searchers that peo­ple in her com­mu­nity “hear the word de­pres­sion and think, ‘they are crazy’ and that’s it. You’ve writ­ten them off. I’m lit­er­ally writ­ten off if I say that.”

Dr White­ley and her team also found that many women felt the only so­lu­tion was to leave the com­mu­nity.

Chen, 26, who was di­ag­nosed with de­pres­sion when she was 16, de­scribed mov­ing away as “a mas­sive re­lief and ac­knowl­edge­ment that I’m not crazy and it’s not just all in my head. For years I’ve ques­tioned what’s wrong with me.”

The re­searchers also found that peo­ple were dis­cour­aged from seek­ing med­i­cal help out­side the com­mu­nity.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr White­ley: “In sec­u­lar so­ci­ety, we have places we can go for help but for them it is very dif­fer­ent.”

The Charedi com- mu­nity need to come up with ways to re­duce stig­ma­tis­ing at­ti­tudes. “We know the com­mu­nity can be re­ally sup­port­ive of other is­sues so, if it can cap­ture that same ap­proach to how it deals with men­tal health prob­lems, the ex­pe­ri­ences might im­prove,” Dr White­ley said.

She added that more ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness of men­tal health prob­lems was nec­es­sary.

Rabbi Avra­ham Pin­ter, pres­i­dent of Chizuk, a char­ity which sup­ports Charedim with men­tal health prob­lems, ac­knowl­edged the com­mu­nity still “has some way to go” in its at­ti­tudes and re­sponses to suf­fer­ers.

He said: “Men­tal health has al­ways car­ried a stigma and maybe more so in our com­mu­nity, but we are be­gin­ning to deal with it much more pos­i­tively.

“Peo­ple need to ac­cept that it af­fects most peo­ple through­out their life-times and we should be more in­clu­sive.”

He said peo­ple within the com­mu­nity who do not feel com­fort­able about seek­ing help within in it, should be free to seek help “in the best place for them.

“If that means go­ing out­side the com­mu­nity, then fine, but they should make sure that wher­ever they go can be sen­si­tive to their re­li­gious and cul­tural needs.”

We are start­ing to deal with it much more pos­i­tively’

Dr Charlotte White­ley

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