Mental health: the key issues we all have to face


Across society and within the Jewish community, invisible illnesses are stigmatised and brushed under the carpet.

While, statistically, everyone probably knows someone experiencing a mental health problem, few are aware of it.

According to Laurie Rackind, Jami's chief executive: "Stigma is still rife and, all too commonly, acts as a barrier to people seeking help. We need to make it acceptable to speak of 'mental illness', and not pander to stigma by only referring to 'mental health'."

People feel afraid to speak out, to tell even their loved ones that they are suffering, because of the discrimination which still exists.

Speaking at a tea held on Monday at the Savoy to celebrate Jami's 25th anniversary, shadow minister for public health Luciana Berger emphasised the point. "There is a taboo in our community which still very much exists. It's a taboo subject that people tend to sweep under the carpet, or in fact avoid entirely," she said.

There is a taboo in our community which still very much exists

"Nearly nine out of 10 people who experience mental illness say that they force some sort of stigma or discrimination as a result. This can make their symptoms even worse and can mean that people are reluctant to come forward and get the help they need. Accessing help as soon as possible can be the difference between people maintaining their relationships, keeping their job or even keeping their home."

Laurie Rackind explains that communities that placed great value on success and achievement "put more pressure on young people. Sometimes that manifests itself in mental illnesses.

"And if people don't accept that the cause is close to them, they don't donate. In a way, it's a vicious circle. When we get more of the community to accept mental health issues, that will hopefully improve the donor rate."

The refusal to acknowledge mental illness is, he notes, destructive for those most at risk.

"We need to talk about our own mental health, and be able to spot symptoms and seek help. Early intervention in psychosis reduces the risk of a young person taking their life from 15 per cent to just one per cent."

Jami has four centres in London. The charity helps people by giving them friends, a safe place to live and employment services, and is working to educate the community on mental illness so that discrimination can be eliminated.

Ms Berger attacked recent reductions in funding that have made it more difficult for people to come forward. She said: "Mental health funding has gone down for the first time in a decade, and a cut was made at the beginning of the year to mental health services that was 20 per cent higher than the cuts to other NHS services."

These cutbacks have contributed to less than third of people with mental illnesses receiving any help at all.

Professor Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has said that if this statistic applied to cancer treatment, "you'd be absolutely appalled and you would be screaming from the rooftops".

Dr Beverley Jacobson, chief executive of education charity Kisharon believes, however, the tide is turning in the way society views mental illness.

"We've seen a lot of progress in combating mental health stigma over the last five years. The community is far more accepting than it used to be.

"We get a lot of community support and we've got more and more case studies of people whose lives have completely changed with the right support in place."

Phillip Vaughan, an engagement advisor at the charity Langdon, says organisations such as his play a crucial role in ensuring help comes from a familiar, comfortable place. "People often approach Jewish social service providers rather than the local authority as they feel we are the panacea, and we can resolve their problems without admitting them to the outside world."

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