Progressively Speaking: Why mental health matters more than ever this week
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Progressively Speaking: Why mental health matters more than ever this week

Rabbi Richard Jacobi looks at the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on people's mental health

No one is immune to Covid-19 or the mental health challenges it presents right now. Even us rabbis.

Indeed, if we look at the lessons from 9/11 and from other post-trauma research, they show that clergy have a higher per capita occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder than post-deployment soldiers (I kid you not).

In this crisis, all front-line staff in the NHS and in social care will be at high risk. So will many others.

That is why this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week seems even more vital than ever, for each and every one of us.

This Covid-19 crisis is not going to be over any time soon. It will be several phases and months, if not years, before we can consign this to the history books. This is a marathon or more, not a sprint.

When planning for this, I turn to our teachings, and remind myself and others of the timeless three-part maxim of Hillel.

It begins Im ein ani li, mi li? – If I am not for myself, who will be for me? At any time, but especially through this crisis, if we do not look after ourselves, we will no longer be able to care for others.

The cabin crew announcement is good practice – we need to put on our own oxygen mask before helping our child, grandchild, neighbour or anyone else.

Part two reminds us, U’ch’she-ani l’atsmi, ma ani? If I am only for myself what am I? If we are in a healthy place, then it is our duty to help others.

And there are plenty of others for whom this crisis is awakening inner demons – ones the person has already met and/or new ones.

Finally, Hillel challenged procrastinating – V’im lo achshav, eimatai? If not now, when? Mental Health Awareness Week starts on Monday and the theme for this year is kindness or, in our Hebrew, chesed. I couldn’t think of one more fitting.

I have seen first-hand how kindness has grown in this period – in my own congregation, our wider Jewish community and indeed the whole country.

Let’s resolve now to keep being kind, both to ourselves to others, long after this crisis has ended.

  •  Rabbi Richard Jacobi serves East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue, and teaches future rabbis at Leo Baeck College
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