Did an hasidic unlicensed mental health therapist – who, I'm told, specialized in telling the women she "treated" that the solution to their mental health issues was to become more religious and more hasidic – play a role in the suicide deaths of two sisters from the Belz hasidic community of Brooklyn?
The New York Post has article that claims the hasidic woman who committed suicide over the weekend in Brooklyn did so because she had been forced to marry her first cousin, had been called “retarded” by some family members, and suffered other mental and physical abuse at the hands of her family.
The claim and the quotes surrounding them all come from an unnamed source who appears to be an extended family member, apparently from the father’s side of the family. The bad behavior the source complains about apparently predominantly or exclusively came from the mother’s side – a neat package all tied up with a bow, as some cops say when they've been handed an alleged perpetrator by a person who likely set up the poor guy. Those types of alleged perpetrators may have been involved in the crime, but they rarely acted alone. And the person who turned him in is likely equally (or even more) guilty than the alleged perpetrator.
But the fact is the Post was shown no evidence of any of this alleged abuse and has no confirmation of it. All it has are allegations from one unnamed person, apparently a family member of the father’s side of the family, with an axe to grind.
In hasidic communities, it is very common to blame mental health issues or unusual physical issues on one side of a family. For example, if a mother’s great aunt who bore 10 children once was treated for postpartum depression, then the mother’s mentally ill daughter is mentally ill because of the mother’s family, how it raises children and its genetic makeup – even when the daughter’s mental illness has no known link to postpartum depression or genetic transmission.
So when a hasid (especially a husid) makes claims like the claims in the Post article, they have to be taken with a grain of salt.
As for the idea that being forced to marry your first cousin caused – not exacerbated, caused (!) – serious mental illness is bizarre. (In this case, the marriage in question lasted only several months.)
The two points in the Post article that may have actual validity are the name-calling and stigmatization of this mentally ill woman, both of which are very common in hasidic communities, and the questionable mental health care the woman and her younger sister, who committed suicide several months ago, received from an unlicensed therapist – who, I'm told, specialized in telling the women she "treated" that the solution to their mental health issues was to become more religious and more hasidic.
“In Williamsburg, it was so bad that the rabbis got together and they put a poster up warning the community about [that unlicensed therapist] and the lack of her credentials. But despite the rabbis’ warning, people are still seeing her for family therapy,” the Post’s lone source said, adding, “To have lost two girls in less than a year shows that something is up with this family. It’s very sad.”
It is very sad. But unless there is some actual proof, to blame the immediate or extended family for the suicides is cruel, even though that unlicensed therapist is allegedly an extended family member.
And it's important to note the woman who killed herself over the weekend had just spent two years in a mental health facility and was only home to pack her things for a move to a small transitional care facility this week.
In the hasidic community, wives "cause" the mental illness of their spouses and children, while women who become mentally ill get that way because of their mothers, bad things that happened in previous generations or in previous reincarnations. But blame is almost never ascribed to the woman's husband or father, no matter what they may have done to deserve it.
If hasidim want someone or something to blame, blame their rebbes and rabbis and other community leaders who make no real effort to stop the demonization and stigmatization of the mentally ill and who at the same time use a handful of willing licensed mental health professionals to medicate and spy on rebellious community members. Blame hasidic schools for not teaching tolerance (or for that matter, science). Blame yourselves for not caring while they were alive. You don’t have to look very far to lay blame. All any of you have to do is look in a mirror.