Media Report Sparks Spirited Defense of Relief Resources

Dr. Glen Hirsch, Medical Director for the New York University Child Study Center, during a Relief Resources presentation for the Rabbanim and Dayanim of Lakewood.
Dr. Glen Hirsch, Medical Director for the New York University Child Study Center, during a Relief Resources presentation for the Rabbanim and Dayanim of Lakewood.

Mental health referral service called key asset to Jewish community

Top health-care professionals and respected educators have rallied to the defense of a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization that is well-known throughout the Orthodox Jewish community for providing high quality mental-health referrals and guidance.

The non-profit, Relief Resources  Inc. was the subject of some negative media coverage recently. No specific impropriety was alleged.

“The  journalists who wrote these articles were clearly not familiar with the way Relief Resources operates,” a community member who has benefited from Relief’s services in the past and asked not to be identified said. “It therefore raised questions. But anyone  familiar with Relief could easily answer them,” he added.

Leaders of prominent groups that have worked with Relief Resources expressed deep dismay at the coverage. They note that the combination of reluctance to discuss mental illness openly and the difficulty in gaining access to appropriate health care has historically been a problem in the Orthodox community and that this has been vastly improved by Relief.

Dr. Margaret Spinelli, Director of the Maternal Health Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Assistant Professor at Columbia University, has worked with Relief Resources since its inception. The organization “does incredible work… They have been instrumental in removing the stigma of mental illness and improving the quality of mental health services in the Orthodox community,” Dr. Spinelli said.

Other renowned academic experts agree. Dr. Jack Hirschshowitz, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said, “The people who work at Relief Resources have tremendous skills and empathy. Their work in providing a bridge to the right mental health providers is very important. They do this work extremely well.”

It’s not just academics who see the value of Relief’s work. Relief works closely with a wide range of schools in the community to sensitize them to problems and to help them identify issues as they arise and point people who need help in the right direction.

Rabbi Meir Chaim Gutfreund, principal of The Cheder in Brooklyn, said: “Whenever any kind of mental health issue arises, Relief Resources is my first call. The advice they provide is invaluable. This is a wonderful organization.”

Rabbi Dovid Ozeri, Rav of The Yad Yosef Torah Center, remarked, “Relief revolutionized the way the entire Jewish community views and deals with mental-health issues. Thanks to their work they have restored stability to thousands of families.”

Harav Elya Brudny, a Rosh Yeshivah of the Mirrer Yeshiva added, “Relief is a rebbi’s greatest ally in helping talmidim struggling with difficult emotional issues.”

“Relief Resources helps people who don’t know where to turn. I’ve worked with them for years and I’ve always been impressed by the fact that they [the Relief staff] really want to know if a clinician is someone to whom they’d send their own family member,”said Dr. Glen Hirsch, Medical Director for the New York University Child Study Center.

Relief Resources was founded in 2001 by Sendy Ornstein and Shiya Ostreicher. Over the past 12 years, over 52,000 people worldwide have reached out to Relief for assistance with mental-health situations. In addition, Relief has conducted numerous seminars and presentations to educators, other health professionals and the community at large to help familiarize them with mental health conditions. On average, the organization handles more than 2,000 confidential calls per month from families in need. Some are first-time callers, others are individuals who call on  a regular basis, seeking and receiving continuous guidance and assistance.

A statement released in response to the media reports, included the following:

“Due to the sensitive nature of this work we do, we have never sought media attention. We always believed that the good work of our staff would speak for itself,” said Binyomin Babad, Relief’s director.

“By questioning the lack of foot traffic into our building and the absence of medical oversight,  it seems someone misunderstood the nature of our organization. Relief is a phone-based referral and support service that does not provide independent medical care.”

“The very reason why Relief is so successful is because it is a phone-based support service that truly respects my privacy,” a community member told Hamodia. “I never would have felt comfortable to be seen walking into a mental health referral office.”