O n a recent working visit back in the States, I happened to bump into Rabbi Ezra when we both wound up davening in the same Minchah-Maariv minyan (not his regular one and not mine). We’d been meaning to catch up for a while and clearly Hashem has a way of making shidduchim, and so between Minchah and Maariv, I winked at him and gestured that I was hoping to schmooze post-davening. We hadn’t been in touch in over a year since I made aliyah, and after sharing a few pleasantries, we found ourselves saying simultaneously, “We’ve got to discuss Mordy.”

Mordy was a young man with bipolar disorder who had been in treatment with me for several years and was doing amazingly well, faithfully sticking to his treatment protocol. While we’d never really been able to extinguish his manic fire, it was a controlled flame these days and the challenges of medication non-adherence, 911 calls, and emergency hospitalizations were becoming distant memories. Sure, Mordy still had manic urges to pack his clothes and fly across the ocean back to the Arizal’s mikveh in Tzfas. During such moments he’d be ready to ditch his job, home, and family support, but with ongoing treatment and the truly exceptional mentorship of Rabbi Ezra, he’s succeeded in staying on track.

Rabbi Ezra had been Mordy’s rebbi and mentor for the past seven years. They had met on campus back when Rabbi Ezra was running a kiruv program for college students. Mordy had become a regular at his shiurim and after graduating, Rabbi Ezra helped him to find a yeshivah program in Tzfas where Mordy had been very successful — that was prior to experiencing his first manic episode. When Mordy stopped sleeping and started spending 24 hours a day at the Arizal’s mikveh, there were those who couldn’t believe what a tzaddik he’d become and cheered him on for his tremendous piousness and elevated spiritual strivings, while others simply looked away because they didn’t know how to address the extreme behavior. Only Rabbi Ezra was able to convince him to return home.

Upon his return to the States, Mordy — who had lost any sort of grounding equilibrium — didn’t understand what all the fuss was about and refused to begin treatment. While some doubted the necessity of medications and others tried to force Mordy into treatment against his will, only Rabbi Ezra was able to reach Mordy through countless hours of thoughtful listening and loving discussions. In the end, it was Rabbi Ezra’s clear psak on Erev Succos that convinced Mordy to adhere to a regimen of medication in order to avoid hospitalization. While Mordy protested the need for meds, he was able to understand that refusing them would have resulted in an involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, forcing him to spend Succos in a psych ward. Baruch Hashem, from that day on it had been one remarkable success after another.

Twenty months after his initial manic episode, Mordy and I were able to find the right medication and the appropriate dose to minimize side effects. From there, we began the education process with family members and friends, to ensure that they’d forgive Mordy’s behavior. Rather than blaming him for his outrageous actions, they were able to see it as symptoms of an illness that was being appropriately treated for the first time in nearly two years. Rabbi Ezra and I worked hard to keep Mordy balanced, and with his newfound family support, Mordy was eventually able to live independently and even pursue a certificate program as a counselor for other individuals with mental illness. Periodically he’d have his sleep disturbed and would start to get pulled back toward the Arizal’s mikveh, but with extra help from his loved ones and the professional team, we’d reset him on the right track. With Mordy’s ongoing stability, things were good and secure enough that Mordy even started shidduchim over the past year and with Hashem’s help has built himself an unbelievable life. I cringe when I think about where he’d be and what he’d be like without the intervention.

And that’s why it was so great to bump into Rabbi Ezra. As I told him in person, “I just to thank you for all of your amazing work with Mordy.”

“I could tell you the same thing, Reb Doctor Yaakov,” Rabbi Ezra replied.

“But while other people were encouraging him to go back to being a tzaddik in Tzfas, you convinced him to be a treatment-adherent patient back at home and saved his life.”

“I just used some seichel, Doctor, the same thing you have. You know more that anyone how there are so many people with mental illness out there in our communities who would really benefit from high-quality help. It’s a pity that there is so much stigma against receiving care.”

“So true, and the saddest part is that people don’t know they can get better. They think they’re doomed to be ill forever.”

“Exactly! People need to know they can get better. Everyone hears about these broken neshamos that are in treatment and commit suicide. They hear about the failed therapies and the overdoses. They know about the treatments that don’t work and the side effects.”

I nodded to Rabbi Ezra. He was actually giving me a challenge: “Reb Doctor Yaakov,” he continued, “people need to hear about the success stories. They need to know about the kids who were in treatment and got married. About the husbands and wives whose illnesses brought them to the brink, yet they got better and stayed married. About the people who found sobriety and left the drugs and alcohol behind them.”

“You are so right,” I said. “They need to know about people like Mordy who not only were brought to treatment, but accepted it and stuck with it. That he lives independently now, got a degree and has a job. They need to know that he’s ready to get married and that he’ll be able to build a successful home one day. You know, people who are hesitant about asking for help are in need of happy endings.”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 676. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Jerusalem. He serves as the medical director of services for English-speakers at Bayit Cham, a national leader providing mental health treatment and outreach within the religious community. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.)