Let’s achieve real parity of esteem with physical and mental health

The Jewish community, like every community, is affected by mental illness. One in four of us will develop some kind of mental illness over the course of our lives, ranging from depression and anxiety, to bipolar disease and psychosis. The chances are if we don’t ourselves experience mental illness, someone we know will.

As a community, we are getting better at openly discussing mental health.

This is in part thanks to Jewish figures in public life, such as Ruby Wax, talking openly about their conditions. But a great deal of stigma remains.

Too often, mental health remains a taboo subject, one that people sweep under the carpet or avoid entirely.

Nearly nine out of 10 people who experience mental illness say they face stigma and discrimination as a result.

This can be even worse than the symptoms themselves and can mean that people are reluctant to come forward to get the help that they need. People with mental illness face discrimination and ignorance, in the workplace, from their families and in the wider community.

For some Jewish people who use mental health services, their experience is not always sensitive to Jewish traditions, customs and culture.

Recently I was privileged to visit JAMI, a Jewish community organisation tackling mental health issues. Its centre in Edgware is a fantastic example of culturally-specific care. It ensures that a Jewish person experiencing a mental illness, and their family members, do not have a challenging situation made worse by a lack of sensitivity or awareness.

They have expert staff and fantastic volunteers who all endeavour to give every support to those in need.

Thanks to the work of JAMI, more and more Jewish people experiencing mental illness are getting the help they need.

But JAMI is one of only a few mental health providers for the Jewish community, and its services are restricted to London and the south-east.

As a charity, reliant on donations, its services will always be stretched but at a time when demand is rising, they are needed more than ever.

Mental health services in the UK are under increasing pressure. The president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that less than a third of people with mental health problems get any treatment at all.

Over the past four years, we have seen the number of specialist mental health doctors and nurses drop and the number of beds decrease by 1,500.

Last month, it was tragically revealed that seven people with mental illness died after no bed was found for them.

For those who are in touch with services, some patients are forced to travel hundreds of miles to access treatment, away from friends and family. There has been an increase in children placed on adult wards and teenagers as young as 14 detained in police cells because there was nowhere else for them to go.

If these were children with broken arms waiting months and months for treatment, or cancer patients being denied help, it would be a national scandal, but the growing crisis in our mental health services has unfolded relatively unnoticed.

Dealing with mental illness can be hard enough even if you have access to all the help and support you might need. It’s diffi- cult to imagine how tough it must be for those who do seek help and are turned away or for those people who do not feel able to ask for support.

This is why it is so important that the Jewish community in the UK can access culturally-specific mental health services.

There is a lot of work to be done to support frontline professionals and leaders to rethink how they engage with service users from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

I’m glad my party has placed a new priority on treating mental illness to ensure that we achieve real parity of esteem between physical and mental health.

After so many decades in the dark, we need to shine a light on mental illness so all people experiencing it get the help and support that they need and deserve.

About the Author
Luciana Berger is former MP for Liverpool Wavertree. She is now Managing Director of Advocacy & Public Affairs at Edelman UK
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