Reviewed by Rebecca Klempner
In Calling Out to You: Journeys and Discoveries Through Clinical Depression and Anxiety, editor Tehilla Edelman combines first-person narrative, poetry, interviews, and essays in a single volume that captures the complexity of mental illness in the Orthodox community. In the introduction, Edelman writes, “[This book] is about seeking Hashem from within one’s troubles, without denying them or minimizing them in any way…This book is not for tzaddikim who never question Hashem’s ways and are able to accept such tremendous suffering with love. It is for ordinary people…” (p.20).
Real struggles do not hide in euphemism or understatement in this book. Only a few pages in, readers are plunged into “Bracha’s” world of phobias, anxiety, eating disorders, and cutting. Later chapters deal with OCD, bipolar disorder, post-partum depression, addictions, suicidal ideation, childhood molestation and abuse. None of these are easy or comfortable topics, but the authors handle them with great delicacy.
The perspectives of patients alternate with the perspectives of mental health professionals, including Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, Dr. Miriam Adahan, and Rabbi Dr. David Fox. While Calling Out to You contains mostly original material, a few of the articles by experts are reprinted (with permission) from Chabad.org, Voz Is Neis.com, and the like. I found most of these chapters both readable and insightful; although, in a couple places, chapters summarized the opinions of an expert rather than providing a complete interview, and those were less enjoyable although equally informative. Edelman’s interviews and commentary demonstrates great skill with both Jewish and scientific sources. She also added a nice touch near the end of the book: a list of quotes for patients to use as “counters” for negative self-talk or intrusive thoughts.
The personal essays and poems speak straight to the heart. They also contribute to a remarkable diversity of voices. We hear from people who feel they are largely recovered and stable, as well as those who fight every day to keep their head above the darkness. There are young people, and older people, both men and women. While many of the people profiled in the book report struggles with prayer, Torah-learning, or other mitzvos, others claim that prayer, mussar, or other spiritual practices help them heal.
The downside of these diverse voices is that sometimes they carry opposing views. Those of the proponents of CBT and medicinal intervention, for example, clash with those of people who rely on nutritional and cranial-sacral therapies. These conflicting options might overwhelm some readers. Edelman repeatedly cautions readers to get their own professional advice before choosing a course of treatment.
Spouses, parents, principals, teachers, and rabbis appear again and again in the pages of Calling Out to You. In the essay, “My Struggle with Postpartum Depression,” Ariella K. writes, “My husband did tons of research on depression, which helped him understand what I was going through…He got chizuk from his rav and never gave up.” Elsewhere, she explains that the family rabbi offered her empathy and gently urged her to get psychiatric assistance when she was afraid to do so. When family members and school leaders educate themselves about mental illness and reach out with love and a lack of judgment, they can play key roles in success stories.
However, when families and schools gloss over genuine struggles or present incorrect hashgafa, they can cause outright damage. In one essay, Rabbi Bentzion Sorotzkin offers several classroom anecdotes that can only be described as horror stories. Advice for family and friends of depressed individuals appears at the end of Calling Out to You, and resources appear in another appendix.
Haskamos for Calling Out to You are extensive. Columnists from both Binah Magazine and Mishpacha have endorsed the book. I believe it is their hope – and the hope of the editor and contributors – that Calling Out to You becomes a means of healing for individuals and families who struggle with mental illness.