If a person has strep throat, we tell him to go to a doctor, who can prescribe medication. If a person has a heart condition, he or she goes to a cardiologist. A toothache warrants an emergency visit to the dentist. We seek a specialist in any area of concern. Yet when our loved ones, our friends, or even we ourselves experience depression, anxiety, or any of the many varieties of mental illness, too often we isolate them, and instead of seeking help, they suffer through the effects of mental illness alone and afraid.
To the contrary, a Kew Gardens Hills resident named Linda Naomi Baron Katz has devoted her life now to educating people about mental illness and to eliminating the stigma associated with it. Her inability to find work after graduating from Queens College was the trigger that brought out the serious manic-depression/bipolar disorder that Linda was soon to be diagnosed with. Doctors encouraged Linda to be hospitalized, where her doses of medication and blood levels could be monitored. In Hillside hospital, Linda came face-to-face with her illness and was forced to realize that she was victim to this debilitating and, when left untreated, deadly disease. Linda’s hospital stay showed her how similar she was to others there and educated her about the condition she was experiencing. Most importantly, Linda learned that recovery was possible. With a skilled and dedicated team of doctors and therapists, Linda started to return to herself and regain the ability to function in society.
Linda’s experience with this disease has taught her about the many valuable resources available for those suffering with mental illness. These organizations treated Linda with respect and gave her the guidance and ability to rebuild her self-esteem. Her clinic (the Advanced Center for Psychotherapy in Forest Hills), Transitional Services of NY in Jamaica, the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and Vocational and Educational Services for the Disabled (VESID) are just some of the agencies discussed in her book that helped Linda regain her independence and sanity.
Linda’s bravery in being forthright and honest about her treatable illness has enabled her to use her experiences to help others with similar conditions. For example, her inability to find employment led her to seek help through a supported employment program, where she was taught how to conduct her own job search. With their help, and with her love of people and her desire to assist them and build their self-confidence, she mastered the position of teaching English as a second language at Bramson Ort College. After years of searching for the right job, she found that she could help other people with mental illness find jobs, which led her to a position as an employment specialist. She became skilled in helping others write résumés and supported them in their job search.
Furthermore, Linda has held and continues to hold many volunteer positions in the mental-health area, working as a peer counselor and teaching others how to be a peer counselor. One thing is certain—Linda’s success in helping others stems from her ability to consider herself a peer of all those whom she treats.
Linda and her supportive, devoted husband, Charles, are members of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. This warm, caring, and nurturing shul has provided the Katzes with rebbeim and friends they can feel comfortable and close with. The rebbeim and congregants are available and helpful to Linda and Charles. In turn, Linda has become involved in the women’s league and looks forward to the opportunity to educate them as well as the entire Queens community on mental-health issues.
Linda hopes that her book, Surviving Mental Illness, will help eliminate or at least lessen the stigma about mental illness in the Jewish community. She also hopes that her book will encourage those suffering from mental illness to seek help and rid themselves of dangerous denial.
No doubt that Linda Naomi Katz has had and continues to have her share of life’s challenges and many obstacles to overcome. She discusses issues of infertility and bereavement in her book—which are so hard for anyone, not to mention the extra challenges it places on a person suffering from a mental illness. However, Linda is surely a living example of how a person can use Hashem’s tests to grow from, improve, and then, in turn, help others. This honest, brave, sincere, and sensitive woman teaches us all that those with mental illness can lead normal, healthy, and productive lives.
In Surviving Mental Illness, we learn from Linda Naomi Baron Katz that recovery is really about living life with all its ups and down. This is the invaluable lesson she so honestly teaches us. Mrs. Katz is available for book signings in shuls or organizations and is available for speaking engagements as well. To receive a copy of her book or to be in touch with her directly, contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 718-261-3772. v
Reprinted from Queens Jewish Link