Progressively Speaking: Why all benefit from Mental Health Awareness Shabbat
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Progressively Speaking: Why all benefit from Mental Health Awareness Shabbat

Sharon Daniels takes a topical issue and applies a progressive Jewish response. This week, focuses on JAMI's Shabbat, which gives attention to mental health

 We’re aware of “five a day” and the importance of fruit and veg for our physical health, but are we aware of the mental health equivalent – the NHS’ five ways to wellbeing?

Being active, learning, connecting to people, giving to others and taking notice of the world around us are essential to our “emotional diet”.

With JAMI’s Mental Health Awareness Shabbat falling this week, it is a good time to consider whether we are getting our five a day.

Happily, all of these are readily available in Jewish communities – walking groups, mindfulness, choirs, youth groups, volunteering opportunities, discussion groups, prayer, befriending projects, educational programmes and more.

Being involved with a synagogue is good for our mental health!

When we experience mental health difficulties, it can be hard to join activities, or even get out of bed.

Communal responsibility is a core Jewish value – as we read in the Talmud, Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh – all of Israel is responsible for one another. So we must ensure the myriad of opportunities are accessible to all, particularly when people may find it hard to take the first step.

Many communities have welcoming practices on Shabbat and festivals – a simple smile or introduction can be great starting points.

Having conversations about mental health, in an open and non-judgemental atmosphere, help create an approachable and welcoming environment.

Reform Judaism has welcomed mental health campaigners, hosted informal chats and trained young people to facilitate awareness raising sessions in cheders and youth clubs.

We are also training Mental Health First Aiders in communities and for our youth movement, RSY-Netzer, so there is greater awareness of how we can support people in difficult times, and when and how to get professional support from the NHS or voluntary sector organisations, such as JAMI.

Sedra Bo, which includes the plague of darkness, was specifically chosen to be our Shabbat for thinking about mental health.

Darkness affects our ability to function, much like mental ill-health.  It is a chance to acknowledge that many are experiencing mental health difficulties and we must turn up the light, to ensure we are truly welcoming and supportive to all.

  •  Sharon Daniels is Reform Judaism’s wellbeing and inclusion manager 
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