Home Curiosity Challenges with Accessing Jewish Mental Health Services

Challenges with Accessing Jewish Mental Health Services


In recent years, discussing mental health has become more socially acceptable. While there is still stigma and shame about discussing mental health, the world has come a long way over the past two decades. However, much of the discussion is generalized without delving into the nuances of different cultures and beliefs in relation to mental health and substance abuse.

The Jewish community played a pivotal role in developing modern psychology and treatment practices. Yet, ironically, this community is underrepresented in discussing and offering mental health services. Here are some of the challenges faced when providing mental health services in the Jewish community.

Lack of Access to Informed Treatment

Many mental health services aren’t equipped to deal with the nuances of the Jewish faith. Treatment for alcohol and substance abuse is a prime example of this gap in service offerings.

Many rehabilitation centers and outpatient programs are oriented toward the Christian faith. While spirituality can play a powerful role in healing, a one-size-fits-all approach is not applicable to those of varying religions. Like many cultures, Judaism has beliefs and restrictions around culinary practices, which can be limiting in an in-patient setting.

Finding a Jewish Rehab or mental health program is difficult, however, not impossible. You just have to look around in your area and find the most suitable for your needs.

Lack of Focused Research

Minority groups are classically underrepresented in scientific research. Consider the fact that women were so underrepresented in health research that the National Institute of Health (NIH) had to mandate that women be included in clinical research in 1994. So to say that there’s an information gap in studies related to Jewish mental health is an understatement.

Fortunately, mental health professionals within the Jewish faith are working to correct this information gap through targeted research. 

Stigmas in the Jewish Community

While research is lacking, some initial results from recent studies have identified some terrifying findings. A pilot study designed to capture preliminary data on substance abuse in the Jewish community found that 20% of Jewish individuals have a family history of substance abuse.

One of the pervasive challenges with offering mental health support is the severity of the stigmas surrounding mental health and substance abuse within the Jewish community. Judaism is based on the idea that one’s body belongs to God, and that introducing substances is in direct opposition to that faith. There’s also an underlying belief within the culture that it’s not possible to develop addictions as a practitioner of Judaism, leading to a lack of acceptance and limiting the desire for help.

As a proud and resilient culture, there’s a strong belief that mental health ailments can be treated through faith-based practices without medical intervention. This consideration highlights the need for faith-informed treatment options to bridge the gap.

Coping with Transgenerational Trauma

In recent years, the effects of generational trauma have become more apparent and discussed. There’s been significant discussion among Canadian mental health practitioners regarding the generational trauma among Indigenous people in relation to Indian Residential Schools. During the “Sixties Scoop,” thousands of children were taken to schools comparable to internment camps. It’s expected that upward of 25,000 children were murdered there, impacting the mental health and wellbeing of generations of family members.

The Jewish community is no stranger to transgenerational trauma. Studies show that despite not witnessing the events themselves, children of Holocaust survivors are more likely to have heightened stress responses, a predilection to mental health issues, and higher cortisol levels. Initial research is also showing that trauma can effectively be passed down through DNA.

Final Thoughts

Mental health literacy and faith-informed treatments are essential for improving access to mental health services for the Jewish community. It’s time for leaders in mental health fields to further explore how one’s culture impacts inequities in access to mental health treatment.