Mental Health Must Be An Ongoing Conversation


The blogcast Jews Are Not Immune: Exploring Addiction and Mental Health, took place over the course of four days about a week ago. A great panel of people were part of the discussion, and a few others of us participated with comments and questions. A few.

Two years ago at my synagogue, a panel evening was moderated, opened to anyone who wanted to attend. Members of our community made up that panel, and they bravely shared their stories of mental health issues. The event had a relatively nice turnout. Relatively. But the attendees only made up of those in the community affected by mental health issues.

I get why. I do. Doesn’t that happen with most things? Those who attend or participate in events or workshops or conferences are those who have an interest of some kind in the topic.

I raised this question myself in the blogcast. Some communities have done some great work, including my own synagogue. We worked a long long time, fighting and pushing for some important things, and formed a mental health chevra of peer supporters.

And now, things are quiet. Too quiet.

I hear of similar experiences at other places.

I still worry that the stigma is so ever present. That there are people suffering, or people caring for people who are suffering, and they don’t know they can call the rabbi, count on him, talk to him. I know that there must be people who are specifically caring for a child with a mental illness and they don’t know that I have a shared common experience – and others like me do too – and could help them….if they want it.

Yes, I know that we have to keep the conversations going. But, I wonder if we need to be braver. More bold.

Yet, I’m not sure what that means.

Does it mean we need rabbis to give talks from the bima about this topic more regularly? I’m not sure how to get this to happen. Or once it does, how to do it more often without sounding like a broken record.

Should we join forces with others around us and engage in educating our communities on a grander scale?  Those who don’t have firsthand experience with mental health illnesses need to be aware of those who are suffering. They need to realize that when they walk into a room full of people any number of individuals may be suffering from a mental illness they know nothing about.

Do we run support groups?

Do we bring in programs, workshops, lectures?

I am proud of the work that has been done in the Jewish community. I don’t want to minimize any of the great things that have been accomplished.

But mental health illnesses are still silent. Are still taboo. Are still things kept secret. The mainstream population doesn’t understand them. Doesn’t know how to talk about them. Believes what they read without always fully understanding everything.

I want to help do more. I know, in my heart, I am doing the right things. I just want to do more.

Ann Zisser has been an elementary school educator for over 20 years, in Jewish day schools and afternoon religious schools. Ann volunteers in family, early childhood, and community programming at Bet Am Shalom in White Plains. Ann also works to raise awareness about mental health issues, particularly in the Jewish world. 

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