Shanee Markovitz, 19


When she was 17, Shanee Markovitz’s mother committed suicide. In the days and months that followed, one thing became painfully clear: In society at large and in the Modern Orthodox community in particular, “Mental health is never spoken about. Suicide is never spoken about,” said Markovitz.

Her own mother’s illness went undiagnosed. “People have no idea that what they are experiencing is not only treatable, but also something that others are experiencing. That loneliness — it’s detrimental, and it prevents people from seeking life-saving support.” Realizing the importance of talking openly about the topic, Markovitz began using her own personal tragedy as an opportunity to bring the issue to light. Her Facebook posts about coping with her mother’s suicide went viral, as did an op-ed she published on the topic in The Forward; shortly afterwards, she was contacted by Dr. Ariel Mintz, founder of Refuat Hanefesh, a nonprofit dedicated to combating the stigma surrounding mental illness in the Jewish community. She became the organization’s founding vice president, and now, while a student at Stern College, she still collaborates with them, judging the organization’s creativity contest this year, for example.

“Mental health is never spoken about. Suicide is never spoken about.”

Publicly opening up about her mother’s death, as well as her own PTSD, is always challenging, said Markovitz. “But hearing back from people that it helped them — that drives me,” she said.

Mis-direction: Amazing as she is, Markovitz can’t distinguish between left and right without using her fingers. “I have to literally lift up my hands to see which one makes my index finger and thumb create a correct ‘L,’” she said. “Not so fun while driving.”