McLean Launches Deconstructing Stigma Campaign at Jerusalem College of Technology in Israel

The Deconstructing Stigma campaign, a project of McLean Hospital to change attitudes about mental health on a global scale, is now underway in Israel

January 20, 2023

The Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), in collaboration with McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, has launched an Israeli iteration of McLean’s international campaign to combat the stigma surrounding mental health.

Deconstructing Stigma: Changing Attitudes About Mental Health is an award-winning campaign originally launched in 2016 at Boston Logan Airport. Last month, the McLean team officially unveiled its Jerusalem installations at JCT’s Tal and Lev Campuses and at Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

The display features life-sized posters of individuals with mental health challenges who volunteered to publicly and boldly share their personal struggles.

The purpose of the campaign is to highlight the complexity of living with a psychiatric disorder, seeking treatment, navigating insurance and health care systems, and facing stigma.

“We are honored to have partnered with volunteers from across Israel, who chose to be part of Deconstructing Stigma and share their stories to increase mental health awareness, reduce stigma, and provide hope to individuals and families,” said Scott J. O’Brien, director of Education Outreach for McLean and co-founder of Deconstructing Stigma.

“This campaign is about all of us. It’s about recognizing that each one of us—at some point in our lives—will experience mental health challenges. It’s about accepting that there is no shame in living with mental illness, that we are not alone in our struggles, and that it is OK to ask for help.”

Inspired by seeing the posters at Logan Airport, Stuart Katz, founding director of OGEN – Association for the Advancement of Mental Health in Israel, was determined to bring the initiative to Israel and helped spark the partnership between McLean and JCT.

Katz and Dr. Zvika Orr, a senior lecturer at JCT’s Selma Jelinek School of Nursing, are spearheading the campaign at JCT.

Posters of people on tan wall

Mental health is an acute problem globally, and Israel is no exception.

Nationally, the Israeli Ministry of Health reports that suicide is the second-most common cause of death for Israeli males ages 15-24, and third-most common for young females.

Further, nearly half of Israel’s population struggles at some point in life from mental health issues, with anxiety and depression being the most common challenges.

“In Israel, we are constantly told to be the ‘gibor’ (hero) and not show any weakness. This makes mental health stigmas particularly felt here,” Katz said, explaining why he felt it was critical to bring the campaign to Israel.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened space for changing attitudes to some degree, since many were suddenly burdened by newfound feelings of depression and anxiety—creating a need to address mental health stigmas on a national scale.

To localize the campaign for an Israeli audience, the installation features a diverse array of Israelis from various religious backgrounds and locations, including groups such as Haredim and Muslims.

“JCT is an ideal setting for one of the Deconstructing Stigma exhibits in Israel, since its Selma Jelinek School of Nursing has a special track for Haredi female students,” said David H. Rosmarin, PhD, ABPP, director of McLean’s Spirituality and Mental Health Program, who explained that nurses are on the front line of care and can act as agents of change within the medical system.

In addition to the Deconstructing Stigma poster installations, JCT has created a special curriculum for its nursing students, who helped conduct in-depth interviews with those who volunteered for the public posters about their mental health struggles.

Orr said that early data indicates that the participating students are already experiencing meaningful changes in their attitudes about mental health.

“We hope our students come out of this project forever changed,” Orr said.

“Instead of judging or being fearful of those with mental illness, many of them are now sharing that they understand these are common struggles. They are developing empathy and affinity for the brave men and women who participated in this campaign.”

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