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Switch to Forum Live View Judaism and mental illness
6 years ago  ::  Feb 12, 2009 - 7:01PM #1
blueberryangel
Posts: 137
I am wondering what the stance of Judaism is on mental illness.  I am very much expecting for this to be one of the fluid parts of Judaism and not one of the fundamental beliefs, and I'm sure that it varies from type to type of Judaism, from congregation to congregation, and from Jew to Jew.

But if anyone has any thoughts on it, or if there is anything you can think of of the top of your head of it mentioned in any text, I'd appreciate it, even if it is very open to interpretation.  If I am asking too many questions looking for easy answers, then if you can point me in the direction of something I can read.  But if this becomes an engaging interesting thread with lots of thoughts all the better.

I have suffered from depression on and off for years.  I also have major major MAJOR (can't express that enough) problems with anxiety.  I've finally HAD IT with psychiatry and psychology.  It has never helped me much and I'm tired of spilling my guts to people I'm paying money to care about me, when many of them I believe haven't.  I almost feel violated somehow every time I go.  Every therapist I have at just about the six month mark exactly, starts getting frustrated with me because of me being jobless and overweight and not doing anything with my life and still "mooching" off my parents in my mid to late twenties..so then they start pushing and pushing and only talking about getting a job and very practical things. 

I try to explain that I'm terrified in my life, and I just can't move, but it's like the more they push it's like quicksand, I just keep sinking deeper and deeper...and I'm just trying to tell someone I need a rope or a hand to get out, but I no longer have anywhere to talk about my demons and fears and I usually turn to the internet because I can no longer reach out to my family who is jaded by my troubles.  I try to save them from my sadness so I no longer talk to anyone but strangers.  I figure it's the least I can do for them after burdening them with myself for so long.    But the result is I have no one to talk to, so my paralyzed state has just gotten worse instead of me finally being able to move forward...so I end up doing the exact thing I don't want to do which is just to hurt them more by being a burden and by making them continue to worry about me....

well my mom is calling for dinner, so sorry for the rambling, I will cut to my point when I come back.
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 12, 2009 - 8:03PM #2
nieciedo
Posts: 5,617
I'm not sure what you mean , asking how Judaism views mental illness. We see it as an illness, and recommend people suffering from it seek out professional help to address it.

Have you ever noticed how many psychiatrists and psychotherapists are Jews? Even the big daddy of them all, Sigmund Freud, was a member of the tribe. Mind you, this is why some wacko antisemites claim psychiatry is an Evil Jewish Conspiracy, but it's pretty clear who the crazy ones are there.

According to stereotypes and popular culture, Jews often tend to be highly neurotic. That stereotype, speaking for myself and my community, has a lot a of basis in fact :)
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 12, 2009 - 10:03PM #3
blueberryangel
Posts: 137
oh, I guess I was hoping for something different, as Judaism is a religion, a faith, after all.  That response is a little disappointing.  I've lost faith in psychiatry and psychology. I'm not sure I ever really had it. I'm looking for something with much more meaning than that.  In my opinion and experience, you can't solve deep suffering and deep confusion with anything other then a search for deep meaning.  I realize that many people have chemical issues in their brain and drugs really work for them, but I don't think that should ever be the only solution.   Society mostly recommends today that all "mentally ill" people work with both a psychiatrist (for drugs) and a therapist/psychologist/counselor/social worker, whatever you want to call it, for "talk therapy" or "behavioral therapy".  However, to be honest I've found therapy on the whole a very soul emptying experience, with hardly any real insights, and I find the way it's gone about very trite and pretentious and...yeah, empty.  Like they are saying something..but they are really saying nothing at the same time.  I've had some great eye opening sessions every once in a long while.  But the most helpful things for me was when I was in group therapy at the mental hospital and after that the day program I was in.  Those social workers/counselors/nurses, whatevers, worked with desperate and lonely people every day who are in the depth of darkness, and they talked frankly about suffering, and in some ways in more practical terms than my past therapists, but also in much much more meaningful ways at the same time.  They would speak the truth to you very bluntly if you needed a "kick in the butt" or whatever, but they never ever ever judged, even people that a lot of people would find completely annoying or even horrible people.

I feel like my past two therapists have not liked me as a PERSON from the very beginning, or at least almost the beginning.  I may not be the therapist, but I'm an extremely intuitive person, maybe more than them, and I can tell when people don't care for me, and when they think I'm ok, and when they think I'm the bees knees.

Anyway I'll spare you anymore rambling about my personal life. 

I'll just direct you to some posts I made in the Depression section and the Mental health and spirituality section...


http://community.beliefnet.com/forums/s … hp?t=38646

http://community.beliefnet.com/forums/s … hp?t=38287

if you care to take a look.

I'll probably have more on this subject tomorrow, if you guys don't mind me educating on my personal experience and theories about mental illness..hopefully we can bring Judaism into the mix, I don't mean to hijack the board.  Now I'm about to faint I'm so tired I didn't get much sleep last night and I am feeling pretty weird.  goodnight.
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 13, 2009 - 12:02AM #4
nieciedo
Posts: 5,617
I'm sorry my answer wasn't helpful, but I guess I don't know what kind of answer you were looking for. Yes, Judaism is a religion (calling a "faith" seems a bit odd to my ear), but a religion doesn't necessarily have to have any opinions on mental illness different from what medical science and psychology tell us.

Most of us do not believe that illness, mental or physical, has any kind of spiritual dimension: it's not caused by evil spirits or sin as some other religions teach. Some of us belief that the response to illness can be very spiritually meaningful and we do pray for healing, but in general we think that illness is best treated by doctors.

I'm sorry that you've had bad experiences with therapy and psychiatry. I had one really wacked-out therapist, but two others who were fantastic and helped me grow tremendously. I also suffer from chronic depression, and about a year ago I was almost at suicidal levels. Antidepressants quite possibly saved my life. I understand that everyone is different, but maybe you just had bad luck in finding mental health professionals?
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 13, 2009 - 1:09PM #5
blueberryangel
Posts: 137
Nieciedo,

I HAVE had some bad luck with mental health professionals.  However, I doubt even the best therapist could have helped me. I need something MORE.   I just wrote a long long essay about my thoughts on why "mental illness" is not always an "illness".  I will probably share parts of it later with you, but I was getting bogged down in pages and pages of thoughts.  Basically I do believe that many people that are diagnosed as "clinically" depressed, may be more influenced by outside factors in their life that are MAKING them depressed, as opposed to "chemicals in their brain".  Which is the standard line for the reason why anyone in this world (which isn't exactly a walk in the park) would be depressed for more than a few months.  Yes for EVERYBODY who is sad, it is caused by chemicals in their brain, but the reason our bodies make those chemicals can be for a variety of reasons. 

I do believe with things like bipolar for instance, that is obviously caused by something quite literally going wrong in the physical brain.  But I believe for a lot of depressed people, their sadness comes from outside things.  Even if that outside thing is that a young girl who doesn't think she is pretty, and you may say oh but she IS pretty, or you may agree that she really isn't very attractive (though I'm sure you wouldn't tell her that).  but you think, hey, lots of people in this world do not exactly have movie star good looks, but are perfectly happy in life, there must be something wrong with this one, her brain must be wrong.  Well, is it her brain that is wrong, or is it her body?  It may not even be what others think of her that bothers her at all or that she cannot get a date, but just literally looking in the mirror makes her feel bad.   She may not even be a very vain person, in fact a person could have a perfectly attractive face but feel that it isn't really their face.  They look in the mirror and they don't see themselves but somebody else.  In the same way that some little girls tell their mommy's that they are actually a boy, and they don't want to play with these dolls or wear this skirt.  by the way I'm not talking about me. I'm perfectly happy with my face, I'm not happy with my body, but that is a different story.

I heard that since they've been doing actual face transplants lately that it has been a concern that people would have bad psychological reactions to actually have someone elses face where their own face should be.  And I've heard of people going kinda crazy when they got an arm transplant because they had somebody elses arm and hand where their own arm and hand should be.  Now these may have been people that were perfectly mentally healthy before their accident.  In the same thought, just because a little girl may have been born with a certain face, does that mean she has what's it called, "body dysmorphic disorder"...is the trouble with her brain or her face literally.  well it's a good question, I don't know the answer, and you know what, nobody no matter how smart or how much of an expert they are in psychology or medicine or anything, nobody knows the answer....I guess it depends on wether you believe we have a sense of who we are and how we look even without looking in a mirror when we're born, or if you believe we get used to ourselves as we grow up by looking in mirrors, pictures, etc.  But depending on your answer to that question...why would we consider someone who was in a tragic accident "mentally healthy" and just responding normally to a strange situation....when we would call another person in a similar situation "mentally ill" and responding in a strange way to a normal situation?

I could talk about this all day.  I've already written a lot more I have on my computer.  The reason is because I have a hard time explaining this very complicated issue, not that I'm obsessed with it,lol.  I have a mind that is not suited to sorting out complex issues, very detailed confusing plots in movies etc.  so it's hard for me.  I'll put up some links to relevant websites later. 

I really don't think though that I'm the only one in the world that thinks that psychiatry has gotten too clinical and dependent on medication and psychology is often empty in meaning.  That is why I am looking towards spirituality.

I'll continue this stuff though on the depression board (where 'll put the links), or health and spirituality, and you guys can get back to Judaism talk.

As far as my interest in Judaism goes, I think if I do get move involved, I'm going to talk to a Rabbi about these thoughts.   No offense Nieciedo, I respect you and your knowledge and you're experience...and I'm sorry about that too, your struggles, I've been there, and I hope you're feeling better now and continue to.
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 13, 2009 - 1:15PM #6
blueberryangel
Posts: 137
by the way, I in no way believe that depression is caused by evil spirits!  What I meant is that depression can have a spiritual component, not just in working your way out of it, but in that there is a spiritual emptiness BEFORE that that can be ONE of the main causes of depression, as well as outward things, as well as chemicals in the brain.  These things are all very tangled up in our experience, I just think that the first two are SEVERELY overlooked in our society when it comes to helping people with "mental illness".  This is a recent thing, before modern times people would have certainly looked to spirtuality first.  In some cases in a good way to look for meaning and hope in God, in others in a bad way when they thought it was the evil spirits and ended up harming people more, which was unfortunate.  I also think my experience may be the extreme though, so I never want to encourage anyone to forgo seeing a professional, or medication if that really helps them.
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 13, 2009 - 2:37PM #7
nieciedo
Posts: 5,617
I don't disagree with you. I think that when a person is depressed, he or she should first see if they are any environmental factors that are at work before jumping immediately to medication.

I also personally believe that our society has commodified "happiness" and given us an unrealistic expectation of what life is actually like -- TV, movies, and advertising all play a role in this. I think that a borderline depression and malaise is actually the normal baseline that people should generally feel in this world due to the alienation that inevitably arises out of the capitalist mode of production.

As the bumpersticker goes, "If you aren't outraged, you're not paying attention."
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 13, 2009 - 3:08PM #8
Bunsinspace
Posts: 5,905

blueberryangel wrote:

...This is a recent thing, before modern times people would have certainly looked to spirtuality first. ...


BS"D

It is a mistake IMHO to assign the past to "spiritualism."  The prehistoric ancients experimented with brain surgery to the limits of their abilities.  And some cultures venerate mental illness as a sign of divine favor - irregardless of the suffering experienced by the afflicted.  Also, there is a tradition that many of our greatest sages, scholars and prophets were subject to various conditions that we would define today as mental illness, yet it was not their "problems"  in that area that they are remembered for.

I dislike doctors who treat a human being as a piece of meat.  I learned this from the RaMBaM.  Any intelligent or driven person can be a doctor, but few are able to practice without falling into the routine of spiritual callousness.  Same with Lawyers.  That may be why Jews in those professions seem to evince many of these coping issues requiring therapy - but that is pure speculation on my part.  We are driven as a people to keep people as our focus, yet how easily such as myself are drawn to the technical and the antisocial elements of society.  And those whose profession is in politics, like my grandfather zt"l, have the exact OPPOSITE potential for imbalance - that being treating people as if they were cattle to be exploited.  Again, our driving force as a people maintains the path of most of these.  But what happens when persons are isolated or disaffected from traditional communal safeguards - then it becomes a no-holds barred free-for-all.  (Not that excesses cannot occur inside the community - of course they do, but those are the exceptions and not the rules.)

Back to the topic, my ideal, for which I have the RaMBaM's recorded "musings" (snippets of his own thoughts which occur in all his major works embedded in the narratives) as a template, is for any decent medical doctor to hold the balance between the spiritual and the physical - this is especially critical in cases where the will to live is all that separates a person from life or death.  Not to go overboard into any specific religious dogma, but at least recognize that a human being is more than just what is written about them in a medical practitioner's textbook. And for that our tradition states that in every person's mind contains an entire universe, so to save one soul from death is as if one saved an entire universe.  This is not so much religious metaphor and inference to subjective reality as it is a functional methodology for balance in the healing arts and the legal and social professions at the very least IMHO.

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6 years ago  ::  Feb 15, 2009 - 11:39PM #9
blueberryangel
Posts: 137
MaxTech,

even though I do not believe in Satan  but rather that suffering is a part of God's plan, as incredibly hard as that  may be to understand with the extent of it sometimes, and Jews don't believe in Satan (one of the reasons I'm looking into Judaism for myself)...I completely and totally understand what you're saying here.  I guess you can only really understand if you've been through  it or have some special brilliance of perspective.  I am not claiming brilliance,  I have just been through it.  And even though your profile lists you as Christian, and I'm not sure what you're doing on the Judaism boards (though I'm sure you're welcome here), your thoughts are very very welcome to me, and very very inspired, even if some others may come across this and either be confused by it or offended, I am certainly not.
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6 years ago  ::  Feb 16, 2009 - 12:47AM #10
Gardenplanet
Posts: 12
The Jewish stance on mental illness is supposed to be that it should be considered as any oher illness. The reality is that we are stigamatized to a larger degree than the general population. Ditto for physical disabilities. Any form of of weakness, including poverty, is commonly treated with callous disregard, or worse.

Trust me, this is voice of experience. I survived an explosion and a comma many years ago. To this day I have yet hear anyone in the Jewish community say "Gee, I'm really glad you survived. Or, I'm so sorry that happened to you." A little kindness and empathy could have gone long way at the time. Instead, I got the message that I should just go away, it's too much trouble to deal with people who are needy rather than contributing. The endless barage of being told how many people had it sooo much worse than I did was not helpful. They couldn't care less that putting it that way could only make me feel guilty and obliterate any shred of self esteem I ever had.

Torah is clear. Everyone is deserving of human dignity. Sadly, this is seldom true in practice.

I've been shut in with medical problems for most of the past 8 years. The PTSD I initially suffered has developed into unbearble chronic anxiety and major depression. Now I have every symptom of agoraphobia, but since I'm too poor to see a doctor, I haven't been officially diagnosed with it.

It takes a monumental effort for me to go to shul when I am able. I wish I could say it helped at least somewhat, but it doesn't. Nobody ever talks to each other, nobody ever smiles. Nobody ever asks how you're doing. Heck, I'm downright cheerful compared to most of them.

Then we come to miracle of the the interwebs, where all too often petty people, petty Jewish people, get their jollies from casual cruelty with no concern about whether or not someone who is scared, isolated and fragile might just go blow their brains out because they simply couldn't cope with anymore rejection when making a last ditch effort to connect with some morsel of human kindness.
They'll eve tell you your mother should have had an abortion. Right. I agree. I wish she had.

So, good luck with your spiritual journey. Mine is over. There is no god.

Rose


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