First person: 'You can't run away from your own mind'


Andrew Barbarash has been through multiple mental illnesses. Now he is a Jami peer support worker, helping other sufferers to improve their lives.

The 32-year-old Londoner says: "I had a nervous breakdown. It was brought on by post-university pressures. In the Jewish community, you're expected to earn a lot, to have a high job status, and I felt that was expected of me.

"I'd never had mental health issues before, so it was scary. I suffered from depression, agoraphobia and symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder for two to three years before I got involved with Jami. I was isolated, hiding away from the world because I didn't feel like I was part of it.

"My friends and family couldn't understand. Because it's not really spoken about, my illnesses were misconstrued as laziness and attention-seeking.

"It was bleak. I would sleep during the day and stay awake at night. I had a lot of irrational rituals, like cleaning things five times or else something bad would happen. Because I had no self-confidence, I had no confidence I could do anything right, so I had to do it over and over.

"I got lost in this isolating world I felt no-one could understand. I thought I'd be stuck forever. Jami were the first people to say I shouldn't feel guilty about having a mental illness.

"There is a stigma in the Jewish community; it's always brushed under the carpet.

"Parents mostly only talk about their kids in a positive light, to keep up appearances. And if you had a physical illness, there'd be no shame. But when you say 'My son can't leave the house and hasn't worked for years', people think 'How lazy, I'm glad that's not my child'.

"For the last two or three years, this is the best that my life's ever been. Rather than running away from who I am, I'm embracing it, thanks to Jami.

"I can be myself more truly than most Jews. We leave mental illnesses too long. I was in denial about it, and it was only when my life collapsed around me that I realised that you can't run away from your mind."

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