Progressively Speaking: Tackling mental health in the community

Progressively Speaking: Tackling mental health in the community

Rabbi Charley Baginsky takes a topical issue and applies a Liberal Jewish response. This week is the state of mental health in the community

Two recent stories in the Jewish press struck me. The first dealt with new research into Charedi women who experience mental health issues and their difficulty in receiving support owing to the stigma their community places on their problems.

The second highlighted the #ihavementalhealth campaign, which seeks to raise awareness that we all have mental health.

Both in some way talk about the difficulties many find in discussing their mental health and how they are therefore hindered in receiving the support they need.

The study may have focused on Charedi women, but they are not the only part of our community that has had this issue.

While Liberal Judaism has had some success with support groups within our communities, and even a successful campaign run by Birmingham Progressive synagogue with Citizens UK to ensure mental health provision for 16-to-17-year-olds, we, too, have a long way to go.

Ask any rabbi and they will tell you how proud they are of the way a congregation will gather together to support someone when they are physically ill or have been bereaved.

Yet not only are mental health problems often far harder to see, many of us struggle to know how to help or even what to say.

As Jews, we know pain can be both physical and emotional. Every Shabbat, many of us will say the Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing.

This prayer draws our attention to the healing of not just the body but the spirit and soul. It is a communal prayer, one in which we pray for those around us as well as for ourselves.  This is surely the point, that we have a responsibility not to allow mental health to be solely a personal issue.

There is a desperate need for more education and better access to resources and we can prioritise this in our social justice campaigning.

However, we can also start by ensuring those in our communities find them safe and supportive places.

Our tradition has taught us how to look after the sick and the bereaved, how to surround them with care and love and have someone to talk to when they are ready.

This is no less our duty to offer to those whose spirits or souls may be suffering than those whose bodies are in pain.

 Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships
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