On Mental Health


Mental health in the Orthodox world is a catastrophe.

It’s gotten marginally better in the Orthodox community in the United States, but in Israel the shitshow still reigns supreme.

It starts with the absolute stigmatization of any mental health issue. Physical ailments aren’t great either, but mental health ones are on another level. Any sign of it before marriage will disqualify you from the dating pool. Any sign of it after you’re married can be grounds for divorce.

And what are the most telltale signs of a mental health disorder? Medication. That’s how we know it’s official. If you have depression and anxiety and don’t treat it, that’s fine. If you do, fuck you.

How prevalent are mental health disorders in the Orthodox community? Let’s see.

We’ll start with the biological origins of it – so much of mental health starts with genetics, and it seems that Ashkenazi Jews are pretty good at sucking at almost everything but being smart (and being smart only makes mental health disorders worse). So the neurosis has got a nice good baseline.

Now let’s add some nice doses of PTSD from the various misadventures that go on in that community. From sexual abuse to violence to an overall shortage of emotional intelligence.

There’s a core underlying belief, for example, that emotions are something you can either suppress or change. This leads to a radical lack of acceptance of an individual’s own core humanity and sense of self, along with a plethora of symptoms that naturally follow – from sexual deviance to uncontrolled rage to crushing guilt.

Throw in some OCD, anxiety, and depression about failing God around a myriad of things you have no hope of ever doing right, and you’ve really set yourself up for the psychiatric ward.

Growing up, one of the common narratives of how much better Orthodox society and the kiruv world in particular was than the rest of “the world” was by pointing to how much of the world was on anti-depressants. If only they had the beauty, meaning, and guidance of Judaism, surely they wouldn’t need that shit.

What they were really saying is “if only they hid their problems as well as we hide ours, they wouldn’t need medication.”

Fuck that. I still grapple with this internal belief. This disparaging view towards psychology, science, and medication as just being cheap sellouts. This narrative came from people with the maturity of a 3 year old, the worldliness of a self-selecting brick, and the personal life of a dumpster fire.

And yet, they got under my skin, because I was 10 when I saw them referring to ADHD medication as the the failings of the global conspiracy, instead of one of the most studied and treatable disorders. I was 12 when I was told emotions were secondary to the intellect, instead of them actually being the source of all our choices. And I was 15 when I was told that mental illness was the ultimate weakness, but a society that is emotionally unwell to its core.

Good job guys. Way to make the world a better place one pseudo personal growth seminar at a time.

Society as a whole has a lot to improve as far as its stigmas towards mental health. And therefore, as per usual, Orthodox society is about 100 years behind.

Welcome to color. Welcome to internet. Welcome to mental health. You’ve got work to do.

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