Eating Disorders and Mental Health 

Posted by mendel Wednesday, April 13, 2011 12:17:47 AM

Excellent article that was published April 11 in the NY Times about eating disorders in the Orthodox Jewish community.

The article quotes Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser who has stood up to bat on the issue.  Some causes are shidduch pressures, and stigma against mental health services. These issues also cause conditions far more common than anorexia. Depression, for example.  Depression in teens is a well acknowledged problem in the secular world, but what about the Orthodox community? If a teen needs counseling, who do they go see? On the one hand, many Rabbis counsel only to go to Orthodox counselors who have a shared Torah-based framework for life. On the other hand, in a small community where so many people know each other, do you really want to go to someone from within the community - someone you may bump into, perhaps often?  Will a teen be comfortable doing this? Teens aren't particularly known for trusting adults. These are issues that need to be confronted, especially in medium-sized Orthodox communities where it isn't easy to see an Orthodox counselor and keep it secret, e.g. who do you see in the waiting room?

The article mentions a fact of shidduch life that should be very embarrassing - asking about dress size of the girl and her mother. Those of us (this includes me) who use the shidduch system for our children are supposed to place priority on spiritual values, yet these very questions seem to be considered normal and acceptable.  The part that I find perplexing is that so many people are placing priority on dress size during shidduchim, and then ignoring the problems with obesity in our community. Obesity has a far greater toll on mortality and quality of life than eating disorders.

Some may feel that the above article is a chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name), which is why I am glad that such a prominent Rabbi cooperated - he obviously felt it was a case of pikuach nefesh, saving lives. Is the desecration in the publishing/exposing of the problem, or the behavior that is exacerbating the problem?

In the secular world, famous people who have dealt with sensitive issues have sometimes made it a cause. In 1974, then First Lady Betty Ford, raised awareness about breast cancer after her mastectomy.  Women started to talk about the subject, and who knows how many lives have been saved as a result.  Can this approach work in the Orthodox community?

Copyright, mendel singer
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