A Self-Disclosure on a Mental Health Riddle: Take and Give More Mental Health!


How can putting the needs of oneself first end up putting the other first?




The ending of my preview column on World Mental Health Day last Friday was this saying:

“Take and give more mental health!”

Especially since the “take” may seem too narcissistic and self-serving, allow me now to self-disclose and elaborate on what I meant in a sort of riddle:

How can putting the needs of oneself first end up putting the other first?

Some years back, during the weekly Saturday morning Torah Study that my wife and I attend, our Rabbi gave me a new Hebrew name. I had forgotten what my prior one was, probably because I never really used my entire given English first name of Hillard. I do not know if this Rabbi ever knew that.

The name he gave me, and that has stuck, is Hillel. Now I say that with both pride and discomfort because Hillel, or Hillel the Elder, was a renowned Jewish scholar and teacher from around the transition time to our common era. Though they lived at the same time, he and another renowned Jew, Jesus, apparently did not know each other.

Hillel left us with many famous sayings. Some say he invented a variation of the “Golden Rule.” About my favorite is this one:

“If I am not for myself, who is for me?

And if I am only for myself, what am I?

And if not now, when?”

This saying has particularly come to life in medicine as our burnout rate has reached mental health crisis levels. Therefore, we must be concerned for ourselves in order to take care of patients as best as we can. It is like how you have to put on your oxygen mask on an airplane before taking care of your child or others. We also know that the mental health of the general public continues to worsen.

However, putting ourselves first challenges the American Medical Association’s principles of medical ethics, which clearly states that patients come first and foremost. No exceptions are given. Yet, in this era of burnout, doesn’t putting our own mental health first actually ends up putting patients first? Aren’t we really first of all self-identifying ourselves as patients when we do so?

In essence, the saying “Take and give more mental health” is an attempt to compress and consolidate Hillel the Elder’s time-tested admonition into a sort of mantra or manifesto as I try to model after him as much as I possibly can. Perhaps you will want to do so, too.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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