Do Jewish newlyweds encounter mental health challenges?

In this two-part series, Katriel Reichman, founder of Therapy Everywhere, interviews Marcia Kesner, a Brooklyn based therapist who specializes in treating the observant Jewish community.

KR: For many brides and grooms, the idea that a mental health challenge may appear after they get married is the last thing on their minds. What gave you the impetus to start raising awareness about post-wedding mental health challenges?

MK: In my 20+ years of experience as a licensed professional mental health counselor in the New York Jewish community, I have found that after a wedding, it is common for a bride or groom to experience “post-wedding blues” as the celebration ends and the couple faces the often difficult adjustment period of the first year of marriage.

For 4 out of 10 newlyweds, the difficulties of this adjustment period will be compounded by a diagnosable mental health, behavioral, or emotional disorder, be it depression, anxiety, or something else.

At this point, it is really helpful for the couple to seek help from a licensed mental health professional so they can receive the support they need.

KR: How common is this issue and why aren’t more people diagnosed before the wedding?

MK: Many individuals don’t realize that the difficulties they are experiencing are anything other than the growing pains of early adulthood or pre-wedding jitters. They don’t know that the challenges they are facing are treatable.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 18.1% of all adults in the U.S. faced a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder in the last year. There is no reason to believe that the prevalence of these disorders is lower in the Jewish or observant Jewish communities. In fact, at least among Ashkenazim, risk factors may contribute to prevalence.

Unfortunately, some individuals may also feel pressured by their community to hide any mental health challenges. Some hope that getting married and settling down will somehow resolve issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety. This is a false hope and I encourage everyone who is struggling to get help right away.

In the words of one of my clients

Somehow, I got through dating and meeting the parents, and the months before the wedding, without becoming paralyzed by sadness. Focusing on becoming a bride kept me going. But, once the wedding was over, my depression came back.

Everyday tasks became to seem overwhelming. Cooking, laundry, and even getting out of bed became a struggle. Worse, even talking to my new husband became too much of an effort. He didn’t know about my past struggles with depression. So, I pushed him away and shut him out and just couldn’t explain what was going on.

In Marcia’ practice, she often invite the spouse to a number of sessions. When the spouse understands what their new bride or groom is feeling they can build empathy and closeness.

Smokowski Jewish wedding
Mazal tov! The wedding is over. What happens when the guests go home, the celebration ebbs, and mental health challenges come to the surface?
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