Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Stories of Depression

From R. Nati Helfgot (slightly edited):

In 2001 (5762) I wrote an essay in Jewish Action on my experience with major depression and my road to healing (link). At the time I chose to share my personal story because of the many people I met along the way in the observant community who felt stigmatized and afraid to talk about their illness. In addition, I felt and continue to feel that those stigmas as well as much of the misinformation that many observant people have about mood disorders sometimes get in the way of people addressing some of their health issues and getting the help they need.

Baruch Hashem, the essay was widely read and YCT Rabbinical School held a well-attended follow up conference co-sponsored by the OU and the Orthodox Caucus on the topic later that year in 2002. Today, five years later I continue to speak in many venues on the importance of recognizing the signals of mental illness and mood disorders, helping our friends and family, and giving hope to the many who can, with proper treatment, medication and therapy, can lead full, productive and happy lives. Unfortunately, many of the stigmas and deep rooted ambivalences still remain part of our community, even in pockets of the current Modern Orthodox community. To that end, in public and in private I have continued to urge the various people who have experienced depression or bi-polar disorder to express themselves in public and put the human face on these conditions and lessen the stigmas and fear factor. These conditions affect the cross-section of the observant population just as any other population. That means that they affect prominent rabbis and rashei yeshivas well as simple Jews who live totally private lives. It affects educators and students, men and women, old and young, rich and poor, shul presidents and shul secretaries, prominent members of the community and those on the fringes etc etc.

In that vein, I would like to reach out to you, readers of this blog, that if indeed you have experienced these mood disorders to share your story in writing (1500-2000 words) with me so that we can compile a small volume of testimonies and stories that can be shared with the broad observant public to help encourage awareness, breakdown stigmas, give people hope and courage, alleviate some of the pain and suffering, and maybe even indirectly help save a life.

If you would like to share your story please e-mail me at this address.

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