Oct 18, 2010

The Contrast

It seems to me that although there were always fragile people, still and all, people who are older than 65, especially those who were born in Europe (perhaps North Africa as well), handle losses with far greater resilience than younger people.  When you read about the Holocaust and think about how people who witnessed the worst and lost everything or close to it, went on to establish families and in many if not most cases they raised normal children, as well adjusted as anybody else, it's nothing but remarkable. 

In contrast, today's young people don't seem able to cope with adversities far less traumatic than seeing one's family betrayed, wasting away and murdered.  We are inundated with articles in the frum press about people amongst us who are suffering from a multitude of problems and who are not coping with them.  The numbers of frum people on medication to help mitigate anxieties and other such ills is staggering, so it is said.  And anxieties (aka lack of bitachon) are of our own making (I am as guilty as the next one).

As I observed an elderly person the other day, who recently loss her spouse, I thought about this and what I came up with is that the seniors amongst us did not grow up with a feeling of entitlement.  Their parents worked hard and they expected to work hard.  Life wasn't easy and that was life.  Young people in Europe did not negotiate allowances, they didn't expect to be entertained by their parents on Chol Ha'Moed or any other time.  Fun wasn't their supreme value.  They were children and their parents were parents, not their pals.  Americans  too, used to know their place when they were children.  They helped work in the family business and sometimes pitched in to support their families.

It's hard though, to recreate the mentality of yesteryear when our lives, in so many ways, are simply not the same.  Mental health professionals, including religious ones in our communities, are doing their best to inculcate us with the belief that we are suffering from one "disorder" or "syndrome" or another if not outright "illness," and frum publications vie to "undo the stigma". 

I look forward to the swing of the pendulum when we will leave the psychobabble behind and focus on core values once again.


  1. You sound like a supporter of gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino! From what I read, if he becomes governor of NY, no more entitlement.
    As far as holocaust survivors raising normal children, I know of some that raised very twisted children. Some holocaust survivors could not get attached to their children because they were always afraid that something would happen to them and some clung and overprotected their children. The current overly spoiled generation of Jewish children may be grandchildren of survivors. These children have been spared ever hearing about anything bad and could not handle adversity because they have been totally sheltered from it.
    The way the Jewish world works today is that if a family falls on hard times, rather than expect the grown children to get jobs, tzedukah is raised so that they can attend seminary or stay in yeshiva. Generations ago, children of the poor worked as early as they could and if they were less frum as a result, oh well! We have a one track system that does not make allowances for young people to help support the family or even to support themselves! Any girl who does not attend an expensive seminary is deemed unworthy of a shidduch.
    The frum world today is very stressful and I can understand how many feel that they cannot handle the stress without some type of chemical crutch. A young man came last night to our house and told us that his paternal grandmother had severe mental illness and his mother has not left the house in years and usually stays bundled up in a back room. The father sustains the family (2 children and wife) on a low paying job. Some sort of disorder has obviously plagued this Jewish family on both sides. The children, however, do not appear to be mentally ill. I don't know what factors are at play in these situations; genetics, abuse, or extreme stress but they can be serious when they occur.
    Maybe there is a handful of Jewish community leaders who are waking up to the fact that the stress level in the frum world has reached a very unhealthy level.

  2. Regarding previous generations I'm pretty sure they suffered from mental illnesses and disorders in previous generations as well but they simply either didn't discuss it or understand it. Medicine isn't what it is today. Once upon a time physical illnesses in the body that were not given a name yet were thought to be mental illnesses, such as illness like PD. So the downside to yesteryear is that people went untreated and suffered, and in turn their children also suffered.
    I spoke to someone very close to me recently about her mother many years ago who must have had something like a nervous breakdown. She witnessed her own mother being given electric shocks as treatment. Those shocks sometimes made people even madder then how they started. A nervous breakdown today can be prevented before it gets to that stage and even at that stage can be treated before it gets worse.

    That said however I do agree with the concept that today's society is emotionally weaker then it once was. I can't say whether that means we have more disorders or excuses for disorders but the concept is definitely one to think about.

  3. Rosie - the children and grandchildren of people who did not go through the Holocaust are also oftentimes spoiled brats.

    Chabadniker - what do you make of the fact that (I looked it up)in the United Kingdom the use of antidepressants increased by 234% in the 10 years up to 2002?

    Between 1995 and 1999, anti-depressant use increased 580% in the under 6 population and 151% in the 7-12 age group.

    In Australia, the stimulant prescription rate for children increased 34-fold in the past two decades. In Mexico, sales of Ritalin increased 800% between 1993 and 2001. In Britain, the stimulant prescription rate for children increased 9,200% between 1992 and 2000.

    and the use of antidepressants in the United States doubled over one decade, from 1996 to 2005. Antidepressant drugs were prescribed to 13 million in 1996 and to 27 million people by 2005. In 2008, more than 164 million prescriptions were written.

    A recent survey estimated that nearly half of all Americans will suffer a mental illness during their lifetimes.

    1) Is it that we are getting sicker and there is an epidemic happening all around us?


    2)Is it because although we have the same general problems as in previous generations, we expect doctors to prescribe medication to alleviate our discomforts whereas in years gone by they were not as focused on self but concentrated on the work that needed to be done?

  4. "Chabadniker - what do you make of the fact that (I looked it up)in the United Kingdom the use of antidepressants increased by 234% in the 10 years up to 2002?"

    ok, let me start by saying that I do not think rushing to take medications should be a first option.
    I also have an issue with the over diagnosis of ADD and ADHD and even if it is a legit diagnosis, Ritalin is in itself problematic.

    That said, the fact that anti depressant use has increased doesn't mean that before 10 years ago there were less depressed people.
    I don't know if people are getting sicker or if people back then just went without a diagnosis and treatment.
    I don't think it's a solution to ignore a condition nor do I think it's a solution to run to medication as a first solution.

    Obviously as a religious Jew I believe that strengthening ourselves in Emuna and Bitachon is the first step to any cure or treatment.

    Off topic but you know this is funny, I came to your blog through a link on facebook but the more I read on your blog, the more you remind me of someone I used to correspond with. You have such similar views, opinions and writing style. :)

  5. True, there are a lot of spoiled brats in America that can't blame their attitude on the Holocaust.
    It could be that modern life does make people sicker. Look at what happened to antibiotics. At first, it was only used in battle related injuries and eventually it was given to everyone who thought it would cure the sniffles. The germs fought back and got smart. Now most germs won't respond to ordinary antibiotics and we need to pull out the big guns. There are clinics that do nothing but dispense intravenous antibiotics every day for weeks to patients with boo boos that won't heal any other way.
    The same thing has happened to adhd and depression. The old drugs such as valium don't work long term and new drugs must be found. Valium is great for occasional use such is in high stress situations where a person is facing surgery or dental surgery. I don't know if anyone uses it long term anymore.
    Now there is an awareness of post-natal depression that if untreated, could lead to serious problems. I am not sure what happened generations ago but quite possibly it lead to mothers abusing and neglecting their infants.