U for Israel and Active Minds

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By Kathryn Collins

President of U for Israel Michelle Goldberg ’14 presented for Active Minds last Friday. She stated that, “If you have a mental illness it doesn’t mean you’re smarter or stupider … it doesn’t change who you are. People put these attributes with people that they really shouldn’t have.”

Goldberg organized the event to speak about Israel’s involvement with mental illnesses. She believes that the best way to deal with these various mental illnesses is through technology within the field. She spoke of the story of a man named Mark who had a mental illness and saw improvement from a medication from Israel. He stated that he was “tired of looking at himself as a guy with a mental illness, seeing himself the way that everybody else saw him” and that was the catalyst of change for him. He went to a psychiatrist and was prescribed this new medication. While the medication was helpful with some side effects of his illness, it was the way that he looked at himself that changed him.

In Israel there is mandatory military service. Israelis ages 18 to 22 must join the army. Goldberg states that this can cause severe mental issues for these people later in life. Every year, 40 Israel Defense Force soldiers will commit suicide.

According to Goldberg, there are different methods of treatment from Israel that have proven to be very effective. The first is a hotline for people with mental illness, that they can call to get help if they are having any type of problem. Problems can range from stress from work to being upset by a new breakup. Their mission is to take the calls, for any type of personal crisis (even things like loneliness and anxiety).

There are also advancements in new medical technology in Israel. At Tel Aviv University, there was a study using cinnamon extract. They found that cinnamon actually helped put off Alzheimer’s disease for the future, affecting the five regressive strains of the disease. Another medical advancement from Israel is with fish oil. A Tel Aviv University neurobiologist has shown the effects of diet and environment on specific carrier genes present in half of Alzheimer’s patients. He found that eating foods high in omega oil and low in cholesterol will significantly reduce the presence of the gene.

Goldberg also spoke of social changes helping mental illness patients in Israel that we don’t have in the U.S. She spoke of the difficulty that people with mental illnesses have doing simple things, such as going to a coffee shop. They can have a hard time sitting still and having a conversation – they can have anxiety and feel uncomfortable. Getting a job with these types of difficulties can be almost impossible.

In Israel, there is a garden called Botanical Garden, that specifically hires people with mental illnesses. Goldberg stated, “If you walk by this garden in Jerusalem, you don’t really see what’s different about it.      You won’t be able to tell that the employees are patients.” Local residents can pick and plant vegetables in the garden and some 200 people, male or female, Jewish or Arabic, come together because they have similar issues and are able to work together.

Similarly, Café Motech brings in people with mental illnesses to work in their café. They do not only hire people with mental illness, they hire students from Tel Aviv as well. Goldberg believes that these two places are truly breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and that similar programs would be extremely beneficial in the U.S.

When Goldberg was asked why it was so necessary to be aware of the stigmas surrounding mental illness and how we can stop them, she replied, “I think that the best way to fight stigma is through education. And, what’s interesting about mental health and also about Israel, is there is stigma surrounding it and people don’t know. And I think that’s the biggest problem, that people aren’t educated. They read one newspaper and they say ‘Oh, Israel is doing this’ or ‘Oh, Israel is doing that’ and the same thing goes with mental illness. They meet one person, and they think that because they met that one person, that’s what all people are like that have a mental illness. And it’s just false and a lack of education.”

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