Why Jews and autism? Mental illness needs attention

Why Jews and autism? Mental illness needs attention

Our magazines, newspapers, and TVs voice every malady of our time. The disorder du jour is autism (Sept. 24).

Yet we are one in universal denial about one subject: mental illness. There are as many varieties of mental illness as there are individuals who suffer from it. This, too, is a disability. Mental illness is not always recognizable, nor is it thought of as a disease of a part of the body. Yet it is a disease of the brain, of the chemistry of a human being.

Depression is written of in such a way that it appears as if a week of Zoloft or Prozac will cure the whole business. But depression can be a long-term illness, like diabetes or heart disease. It is time to take this more seriously. It is long overdue in society in general that we recognize mental illness as simply an illness, with a chain of potential medications, yet often no cure.

Some live in shame all of their lives for carrying this illness. They become adept at hiding the disease that cripples them. Often medications will mask it. Health companies refuse to pay for psychiatrists who are knowledgeable in this area. Not every physician has extensive knowledge of every form of sickness, and not every psychiatrist can deal adequately with every form of mental illness.

Few philanthropic organizations give funding for the mentally ill. They will support cancer and heart disease research, but not research on illnesses of the mind. In Hebrew, mental illness is known as “sickness of the soul.” A developmentally disabled person has a far better chance of free treatment and even, if necessary, a group home or a hospital.

We need a different attitude towards diseases that are invisible. It is time for the severity and helplessness of mental illness to come out of the recesses of the closets of society.