Understanding Mental Health Stigma In The Jewish Community

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By Lindsay Lewis

Different cultures view mental health issues differently. In the Middle East, mental health is often seen through a religious lens. North Americans tend to see mental health as a psychiatric issue. Although different across cultures, there is stigma for all.

In the Jewish community, suicide rates are high. There are gender, political and age-related pressures across reform, conservative and orthodox Jews, according to Robin Gearing, UH professor of social work and Director of the Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation in Treatment Engagement and Service (MH-RITES research center).

Gearing is working with colleagues to better understand mental health stigma, treatment beliefs, and barriers and promoters across the different Jewish denominations to create better pathways to care as part of the Jewish Mental Health Study in Houston. Many Jewish individuals seek treatment while others may not due to stigma or lack of knowledge about the mental health system. Some Jewish individuals seek treatment with physicians or counselors, and others talk to their community elders or rabbis.

Gearing and his team have been involved in community-based research to better understand these issues among Jewish Houstonians. By attending women’s groups held in Jewish homes, along with a community advisory committee, the team has worked with Jewish Family Service of Houston to listen to members of the community. “For a lot of faiths, bringing mental health discussions into the house or community is not easy,” he said.

By partnering with the community, Gearing and the Jewish Mental Health Study team have been able to gather important information that can benefit both current and future mental health consumers and mental health professionals. Knowing the particular needs of individuals who need help in different Jewish denominations will help providers reach out and engage individuals who may otherwise not seek help or quit treatment prematurely.

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