Everything you wanted to know about the benefits of psychiatric hospitalisation for children at the Mental Health Clinic adjacent to Mayanei Hayeshua
Renowned doctors and specialists, complete gender separation, short waiting times, and most importantly – a team that is completely sensitive to the needs and values of the Ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) community, even ensuring the continuance of Hebrew studies within the hospital walls | Prof. Israel Strous, Director of the Psychiatry Unit at the Mental Health Centre, and Dr. Leonid Kikinzon, Manager of the new ward, share their insights.
In the words of the late Dr. Rabbi Moshe Rothchild, unforgettable founder of Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Centre, at a meeting on the day of the inauguration of Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Centre, “If we succeed in healing one Jew, or one Jewish child, from his mental health problem – that alone is our [greatest] reward.”
Dr. Moshe Rothchild is now looking down at his handiwork from Above. No doubt, he is receiving his reward Up There for helping heal not only one, but many, many individuals from indescribable emotional pain. Over the nearly-three years since the Mental Health Centre has opened in Bnei Brak, a huge number of patients have passed through its gates, receiving everything they deserve in a setting that is sensitive and considerate of their unique religious needs.
At our meeting with the late Dr. Moshe Rothchild and with his son, Rabbi Shlomo Rothchild, CEO of the hospital, both described the common misconceptions and stigmas associated with mental illness, which for years have been causing tremendous damage to the patients on their journey to healing.
“There is nothing like mental illness, whose severity is measured not only by the regular indicators of the illness itself but also by the public’s approach toward those who suffer from it,” Dr. Rothchild told us. People who suffer from mental illness, he explained, also suffer from terrible stigmas, which make them feel unaccepted by society.
We all know families whose children suffer from mental illness, who may be up to the third or fourth decade of their lives and never leave their homes because of the shame they feel. As a community, we have not yet internalized the understanding that the same Hashem Who created physical illness also created mental illness. What is obvious, however, is that when people who suffer from mental illness are too ashamed to pursue help, their illness is exacerbated.
One proof of this is the simple fact that in the past decade, ever since Mayanei Hayeshua began treating mental illnesses, many patients have visited its outpatient and day care clinics (in separate buildings and with separate doors, well-concealed from the rest of the hospital) and treated successfully, the vast majority returning to their communities and schools after completing the treatment, and some continuing treatment with some support.
In this essay, we are focusing on the treatments provided to children in Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Centre. To that end, we spoke to Prof. Israel Strous, Director of the Centre’s Psychiatry Unit, and Dr. Leonid Kikinzon, Manager of the recently-opened Paediatric Inpatient Psychiatric Ward. To be clear, “children” here refers to individuals ages 12-18.
Before we have a chance to pose our first question, Dr. Leonid Kikinzon informs us that there are actually two separate wards: one for girls and one for boys. The first opened about a month ago, and the second – the boys’ ward – was opened this past week. “You need to keep in mind,” he adds, “that our centre is the only one in the entire world that provides psychiatric treatment in a completely gender-separated facility. This, in fact, was the greatest problem these Ultra-Orthodox teenagers were facing in other hospitals, which are designed for secular patients.”
These teenagers and their parents were turned off by the prevalent atmosphere in other hospitals and the impossibility of maintaining their cultural sensitivities and values as Charedim. And while it is not difficult to understand their reluctance, this was also the reason that many teenagers in the Charedi community were not receiving the treatment they needed – until now.
Even before the inpatient unit was opened, says Prof. Strous, many children and adolescents were treated in the Mental Health Centre’s outpatient and day care clinics. Yet the obvious need for an inpatient unit led the hospital to open a new ward with ten beds, offering a completely gender-separated hospital treatment option.
The children and adolescents treated in the new ward exhibit nearly the full gamut of mental illnesses found in adults, although there may be differences in their practical manifestations.
In response to our question as to how mental illness is diagnosed at younger ages, Dr. Leonid explains that the most effective indicator is the child’s social and educational functioning and whether he communicates with the people around him. The new ward manager notes that “when we see a child who functioned properly until recently, studied as expected and was surrounded by friends, and suddenly there is a visible decline in all these areas, to the extent that the child can no longer focus on his studies or on anything else, that is the strongest indicator that he is going through some kind of emotional distress.”
In many instances, the parents turn to a psychiatrist or psychologist, but in some cases the child’s condition requires immediate intervention. The problem, however, is that nearly all hospital treatment options require long waiting times. In paediatric psychiatric clinics, for example, the first appointment may be scheduled about three weeks after the initial call, but after that, the waiting time until one of the psychologists will become available for regular treatment may be a year or even more.
Prof. Strous adds that there are certain cases which require a more comprehensive “family intervention,” where other family members also began experiencing their own issues as a result of the main problem, and they must be treated as well. These additional family members may need to wait for treatment for a long time – sometimes even a few years.
This is one of the benefits of the new Paediatric Inpatient Psychiatric Unit at the Mental Health Centre near Mayanei Hayeshua. “In our ward,” says Dr. Kikinzon, “we perform an immediate psychiatric exam and assessment, and if we see that the child needs to be admitted, we can work it out immediately. Already on the first or second day the staff begins treating the child by prescribing or adjusting medications and dealing with all the minutest details [of the treatment plan].”
An additional, no less significant benefit which is not found anywhere else in the world is the Hebrew studies programme offered to the children in the ward, to ensure that the child continue his educational regimen in some way and not lose the study habits that he had cultivated in school or be completely “out of it” when he returns. The exact nature and level of the studies at the hospital is not important as much as the actual fact that he continues to be educated in some way. It also does not really matter how many hours he will study in the hospital – as long as he maintains some kind of educational study.
Unlike other hospitals, which provide only secular education, the Mental Health Centre provides Hebrew studies as well, similar to the studies offered in the religious institutions which the patients attend. An Ultra-Orthodox teacher teaches the children the Hebrew studies they are accustomed to.
All these factors are unique to Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Centre; they cannot be found elsewhere. In addition, the hospital maintains the values and sensitivities of the Ultra-Orthodox community in dress code and appearance. You will not find a staff member – or even a patient – in immodest attire. “This simply does not exist by us,” emphasizes Prof. Strous, who notes that “when a patient knows that the place where he is hospitalised will also address his cultural sensitivities, the healing process is expedited too.”
Prof. Strous and Dr. Leonid Kikinzon both have many years of experience specializing in their respective fields. Prof. Strous served for many years as Deputy Director of the hospital in Be’er Yaakov, and Dr. Kikinzon worked for many years in the renowned Geha Hospital. They are also intimately familiar with the Charedi community, and as a result, are in the best position to understand the needs and comfort level of their patients.
In the last week of November 2019, Professor Rael Strous, the South African-born medical director of Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Centre, and professor of psychiatry at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Medicine, was in London for a busy round of meetings and events organised by the British Friends of Mayanei Hayeshua.