A former member of the Satmar hassidic sect who publicly exposed the traumatic experience of being drugged by her parents to prevent her from leaving the sect or questioning her religious beliefs, took her own life at the age of 22 last week.
Only three months before her death, Chaya Weller had alleged that she was given anti-psychotic drugs not prescribed by a medical professional or psychiatrist, and was interviewed on Channel 12 about her experiences.
Weller recounted in the interview the trauma she felt at the hands of her family, which she says originated when she questioned her religious beliefs in a conversation with her mother, and matters devolved to the point that some time later she ran away from her home.
When she eventually returned home, she was taken to an haredi "businessman," who proceeded to give her anti-psychotic sedatives, which she thought were supposed to improve her mood.
"I didn't understand what was going on with the side effects,” Weller told Channel 12. “I didn't understand why I was depressed, crying all the time, couldn't move from my bed, sleeping all the time. I didn't even realize it had to do with the pills. Only when my mother realized [what was happening], she brought me back to the haredi 'businessman' – and he admitted he gave me the pills so I wouldn't run away from home."
Following the revelation, she left her home again and returned to both her home and her religion after about two years. Her parents immediately arranged a marriage for her. This convinced Weller to leave, saying it gave her the "courage to break up with the family and leave religion forever."
"Today I live in an apartment with roommates," she said in the interview with Channel 12, just three months before her death. "I'm going through an uneasy emotional process. I am dealing with all the traumas I went through as a child. I maintain contact with my family, but it is mostly technical. My relationship with them is not good, but there isn't a total disconnect."
But this week, the young woman put an end to her life in the apartment where she lived, in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. She was buried without her friends accompanying her, after they were told that the funeral was going to be held on another day.
Those experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings can contact the Eran organization, which provides emotional first aid, by calling 1201.
The issue of haredi communities using psychiatric drugs on youth who exhibit “undesired” behaviors has received increased media coverage in recent months, leading to an uproar from multiple social activist organizations.
In December, Channel 12’s Ulpan Shishi conducted an investigation into a trend in some haredi communities in which youth who use smartphones, learn physics, express sexual desires or other behaviors seen as problematic by educators are sent to licensed psychiatrists along with “educators” and receive medication meant for patients suffering from schizophrenia and depression. The “educators” often describe symptoms to the psychiatrist without the student being present in the room.
The haredi youth subjected to the unnecessary psychiatric care were commonly prescribed with either Prizma or Risperdal, the latter of which is also known as Risperidone. Risperdal, which causes a suppression of sexual desire, can cause weight gain and high blood pressure. Parkinson’s Disease is a very common side effect, with one out of 10 patients being affected.
“From the moment that the boy begins to enter the period in which he takes psychiatric pills, he doesn’t function, he already isn’t at his best, and then... he’s a zombie, you can do what you want with him,” said Haim Tfilinski, a former educator who later left the sector, told Ulpan Shishi. “They want just one thing: be furious, do everything that you can to get through the three to four years that you’re in yeshiva, we’ll marry you off, you’ll have kids and from there you’ll deal with life.”
Ulpan Shishi sent undercover haredim with hidden cameras to psychiatrists who are popularly used by haredim in these situations.
One leading psychiatrist at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem prescribed the actor with an anti-anxiety medication with a side effect that lowers the “undesired things” (sexual thoughts in this case). Another doctor issued a prescription and diagnosis without the patient even being in the room.
Ulpan Shishi traced the practice of prescribing drugs in these cases in the hassidic community to the Gur stream of hassidim in the 1990s, although it later spread to other haredi communities.
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.
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