Mental Health centre attemps to change attitudes

Six members of the Jewish Association for the Mentally Ill's Golders Green day centre have given Jami supporters an insight into their conditions.

In an interlude during a concert by classical pianist David Silkoff at Burgh House in Hampstead, the six recited poems they had written about themselves.

Jami's Einat Gilad-Kingsley said the aim had been "to change the way the Jewish community views people with mental health difficulties, so we can hopefully promote the idea that there is a person behind the label.

"At the beginning, people weren't confident about the idea of speaking about their experiences in public, but once I explained this would help to reduce stigma, they were not worried about speaking up."

The night was ‘an educating process about the stigma’

Among the speakers was 73-year-old Michael Gerstein, who holds a degree in fine art. Describing his difficulties as "emotional not intellectual", he said the evening had been "an educating process about the stigma of mental illness".

First diagnosed "as having an anxious state 50 years ago", he had been bullied as a youngster because of his regular bouts of nervousness.

But he went on to work as an advertising designer and a primary school teacher.

Kenton Synagogue member and mother-of-two Yvonne Salustro, 43, read a poem, Moving On, about learning to cope with schizoaffective disorder.

"I've spent quite some time receiving treatment in hospital these last 17 years," she said. Of the day centres she had attended, "Jami has been by far the best".

Geoff Swimer supported the evening because his late sister Patricia was a Jami member.

"When she was growing up mental illness wasn't understood and there was no support," he explained. "It was a case of taking some drugs and getting on with things.

"She had fear and anxiety from her condition, but worst of all she was isolated.

"After joining Jami in 1993 she formed friendships and escaped the worst part of her condition - the loneliness which came from stigmatisation."

The evening raised £1,000 towards Jami services.

    Last updated: 2:04pm, April 22 2010