July 21, 2024
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New Study Disproves Myth That Orthodox Jews Resist Mental Health Treatment

(Courtesy of Touro College) For years, experts have believed that Orthodox Jews resist treatment for mental illness. New research led by Steven Tzvi Pirutinsky, Ph.D., associate professor at Touro College Graduate School of Social Work, busts that stereotype. The findings were published this week in Transcultural Psychiatry.

The study authors compared 191 Orthodox Jews to 154 similar non-Orthodox people, both Jews and non-Jews. “When it comes to deciding to seek therapy, sticking with therapy over time and willingness to use prescription medicines for mental health, the two groups were remarkably similar,” said Pirutinsky.

Orthodox patients had fewer symptoms when they started mental health treatment than the non-Orthodox control group, indicating a willingness to seek care before their issues became overwhelming. They also stayed in therapy for more sessions.

Anxiety disorder was the most common symptom for which people sought treatment. It affected 68% of people studied. Depression was the second most common, affecting 38%, while obsessive-compulsive disorder affected 24%.

There are several possible explanations for this. First, the historic role of mentorship in the Jewish community and the cultural value of seeking self-knowledge make people more likely to seek out expert advice. Also, Jewish culture and halacha highly prioritize preservation of health. This religious obligation may be particularly important to the Orthodox community and may encourage members to seek treatment or therapy, despite concerns regarding stigma.

The Orthodox Jewish group and the control group were demographically similar in terms of gender, age, income or employment status. However, Orthodox patients were more likely to be married and White and were less likely to have completed a secondary degree. About half of the study participants took prescription medicine for their mental health. The study also compared Modern Orthodox and Haredi Jews and found that they also were similar.

“The myth that Orthodox Jews are resistant to mental healthcare is outdated and out of place. Reinforcing that outmoded stereotype in the media and other forums only provokes anxiety and unnecessary fear of stigma. Orthodox Jewish patients are moving past the stigma; the media must keep up with them,” said Pirutinsky.

Based on the study findings, Pirutinsky recommends that therapists and community mental health programs reach out to engage those at risk, since they are more likely to seek treatment than previously assumed. “It’s also important for therapists treating people who express concerns about stigma to explore the issue with the specific individual and not to automatically attribute these concerns to religion or culture. While therapists should be sensitive to religious patients, exceptional accommodations to maintain privacy and encourage adherence may be unnecessary, since these might interfere with treatment and could actually increase communication stigma and reinforce negative and outdated beliefs.”

For more information on Touro Graduate School of Social Work, visit www.gssw.touro.edu.

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