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The Effect of Anti-Semitism on Mental Health

by Contributing Author

Although much of the past year has focused on the demoralizing aspects of a worldwide pandemic and the consequences of isolation, less attention has been paid to the demoralizing and damaging effects of racism and how it affects people who face it on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Whether at work, at school, or in the media, many people are afflicted with a stream of racist thought processes and false claims, all of which can result in damaging efforts to maintain mental health. What exactly are the effects of anti-semitism on mental health?

What Is Anti-Semitism?

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Although the term “racism” is one most people are familiar with, anti-semitism may not be a word as frequently used or discussed. Anti-semitism is defined as the display of hostility or prejudice against Jewish people. In practice, anti-semitism can be seen in the form of small comments or turns of phrase “He Jewed me” or in more easily identifiable ways, such as the continuation of Nazi parties and organizations. Anti-semitism is the name given to any speech or demonstration that targets Jewish people from any background or nationality.

Categorizing anti-semitism has come up against some challenges in recent years. Some have argued that anti-semitism is rooted in racism, while others have argued that anti-semitism is a form of religious persecution, rather than racially motivated prejudice. In either case, any instance of prejudice against Jewish people, whether due to their racial affiliation or religious observances, qualifies as an instance of anti-semitism.

Anti-Semitism and Mental Health

While anti-semitism may not always be placed in the same category as other forms of racism, the effects of both are the same: decreased mental health. Mental health comes in many forms, some of them not easily recognizable. Greater recognition can be achieved through learning about your symptoms through therapy or sites. The most common ways diminished health is visible are as follows:


People who are targeted as a result of their background and beliefs may be more likely to feel shame about who they are and how they practice their beliefs. This seems to be particularly pertinent for Jewish children who are exposed to anti-semitism, whether that comes in the form of taunts from other children or exposure to anti-semitism in media through news stories or media depictions.


In both physical and verbal attacks, anti-semitism ultimately leads to an increased risk of developing anxiety. Feeling unsafe can come after even a few words exonerating Nazis or other anti-semite groups, but can also come as a result of physical attacks, such as beatings and intimidation.

Chronic Stress

Different from anxiety, chronic stress occurs when stressors continually pile up without relief. While anxiety is a mental health condition that can persist long after an inciting incident, stress occurs in response to a trigger. News stories regarding the rise of neo nazis, offhand abrasive comments like those mentioned above, and a pervasive stereotype in an individual’s community can all contribute to chronic stress. Chronic stress may increase the likelihood of developing anxiety and depression, and can have lasting physical effects, such as high blood pressure and chronic pain. 


Whether experienced directly, or experienced through images and videos on a screen, anti-semitic acts can lead to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition characterized by persistent fear, intrusive thoughts, recurring thoughts or fears, and episodes of heightened awareness, or hyperarousal. PTSD was most commonly seen in Holocaust survivors, but can also be seen in individuals today who have been targeted as a result of their ethnic or religious roots.

Anti-semitism can trigger the onset of numerous mental health conditions and disorders, and all instances of anti-semitism should be addressed swiftly and definitively. Whether anti-semitism is driven by religious division or ethnic discrimination, Jewish people are protected under the Civil Rights act, and all incidents of anti-semitism are firmly enconsced within the classification of a hate crime.



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