Study highlights stigma around mental illness

Report finds that women felt isolated and rejected, and their chances of finding a marriage partner were reduced. 


A new study says Charedi women experiencing mental health problems find it harder to get the support they need because their community stigmatises sufferers.

The report, published in the academic journal, Mental Health, Religion and Culture, found that the women felt isolated and rejected, and their chances of finding a marriage partner were reduced. 

Psychologist Dr Charlotte Whiteley led the research with her University of Surrey colleague Dr Kate Gleeson and Professor Adrian Coyle from Kingston University London.

They found that “having mental health problems in the Charedi community affected the chances of shidduchim, as coming out with their problems made them less desirable options.

“People thought they were not good enough or suitable enough to be matched up.”

The research focused on the experiences of four women in their 20s suffering depression, personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr Whiteley said: “No matter what their problem was, their experiences were all very similar

“There was a sense that in Charedi communities, having a known or suspected mental health diagnosis, resulted in the person being assigned a lower social status than people who were perceived as emotionally and psychologically stable.”

One of the women, identified as Miri, 25, was diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder when she was a teenager.

She told the researchers that people in her community “hear the word depression and think, ‘they are crazy’ and that’s it. You’ve written them off. I’m literally written off if I say that.”

Dr Whiteley and her team also found that many women felt the only solution was to leave the community.

Chen, 26, who was diagnosed with depression when she was 16, described moving away as “a massive relief and acknowledgement that I’m not crazy and it’s not just all in my head. For years I’ve questioned what’s wrong with me.”

The researchers also found that people were discouraged from seeking medical help outside the community. 

According to Dr Whiteley: “In secular society, we have places we can go for help but for them it is very different.” 

The Charedi community need to come up with ways to reduce stigmatising attitudes. 

“We know the community can be really supportive of other issues so, if it can capture that same approach to how it deals with mental health problems, the experiences might improve,” Dr Whiteley said.
She added that more education and awareness of mental health problems was necessary.

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, president of Chizuk, a charity which supports Charedim with mental health problems, acknowledged the community still “has some way to go” in its attitudes and responses to sufferers. 

He said: “Mental health has always carried a stigma and maybe more so in our community, but we are beginning to deal with it much more positively. 

“People need to accept that it affects most people throughout their life-times and we should be more inclusive.”

He said people within the community who do not feel comfortable about seeking help within in it, should be free to seek help “in the best place for them. 

“If that means going outside the community, then fine, but they should make sure that wherever they go can be sensitive to their religious and cultural needs.”


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