Ousting stigmas, Israel’s first mental health expo happening Monday – in English

Event in Jerusalem will tackle stigma surrounding mental health and give much-needed guidance as pandemic has brought many challenges to the fore, say organizers

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: a young man facing mental health challenges during the pandemic (lightspeedshutter via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: a young man facing mental health challenges during the pandemic (lightspeedshutter via iStock by Getty Images)

Israel’s first mental health expo will take place on Monday — in English and tailored to the needs of English-speaking immigrants.

The day-long event in Jerusalem includes briefings and panels aimed at offering tools to understand and navigate Israel’s mental health provisions.

“The expo is about giving people a sense of what’s available out there to help and treat people facing mental health challenges,” Chaim Fachler, one of the organizers, told The Times of Israel. “There hasn’t been such an event before in Israel, even in Hebrew, and we’re proud that Anglos are leading the way.”

“The buzz around this is raising awareness and helping to eliminate stigma surrounding mental health even before the first panel starts.”

Some 1,000 people have registered to attend, and the steering committee has already decided that the event will take place annually, said Fachler, a director at the mental health center of Bnei Brak’s Mayanei HaYeshua Medical Center, which is running the expo together with partners.

The aim of the event is to give people the same clarity regarding mental health access that they already have regarding physical health provision, according to Fachler.

“When you break an arm or a leg, you know who to go to and what to ask for, and it’s a well-known formula,” Fachler said. “But when you come to mental health, there are many more hurdles. For example, do people realize they have a challenge? Will they accept it? Who diagnoses? And then who helps? How do you locate the right professionals? People don’t know the answers and are often daunted to ask, feel stigma, or just don’t know where to start.”

“It’s challenging for all Israelis, and even more so when your mother tongue isn’t Hebrew, as is the case for many Anglos in Israel.”

Organizers of Israel’s first mental health expo, from left to right: Dr Stuart Harris of Machon Dvir, Shlomo Katz, of Relief Israel; Chaim Fachler, a director at the mental health center of Bnei Brak’s Mayanei HaYeshua Hospital; Ellie Rothstein of Kav Lanoar; Moshe Lion, mayor of Jerusalem; Esther Nathanson; Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem; Stephanie Strauss, YU Israel; Nechama Munk of Yeshiva University. (Courtesy)

Panels range from practical topics like choosing the right mental health provider to more conceptual issues like how trauma impacts mental health and how to achieve resilience. A slew of research has pointed to the COVID pandemic’s deleterious effect on mental health, and the impact of two years dominated by the coronavirus is expected to be discussed across the sessions.

Israel’s three leading English-language mental health organizations in Israel are involved in running the event alongside Mayanei Hayeshua: Relief Resources Israel, Machon Dvir and Kav L’Noar. Other partners include Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work; the Jerusalem Municipality; Clalit Health Services; Nefesh B’Nefesh; and the Israeli Center for Addiction.

Immigrants from the United States, Canada and other English-speaking countries are disproportionately represented in Israel’s mental health professions, with a relatively large number of English speakers working in psychology, psychiatry, social work and related fields.

This created momentum for the expo in English, and Fachler said that Hebrew-speaking mental health providers are showing great interest: “We are in touch with Hebrew-speaking organizations who are now talking about doing something similar for the Hebrew-speaking public.”

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