When asked to edit this issue to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, in association with Jami and Dangoor Education, I had little hesitation.
In the last few years I have seen a significant shift within our community towards the complex topic of mental health. From the annual Mental Health Awareness Shabbat started by Jami in 2017 to the success of their Head Room Café on Golders Green Road, the charity has truly changed the way mental health is perceived and treated within our community.
Of course we still have a way to go until mental illness is considered with the same regard as physical illness – I strongly believe we need to urgently focus on “prevention” and “early intervention” in our community as an example – but since I was first diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia over a decade ago, mental health is a great deal less of a taboo than I once found it to be.
The very fact I’m writing these words in Jewish News, which has chosen to dedicate an edition to mental health, shows the progress we are making.
Jewish News editor discussing this week’s mental health issue
In recent times, of course, there has been an understandable focus on our physical health due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, we must not neglect our mental health during this period, which for many of us has also been impacted by the situation, especially youngsters.
A report released this week by the Prince’s Trust and YouGov showed that almost half of young people in the UK feel increased levels of anxiety owing to the pandemic, with fears about their future employment prospects.
The Young People in Lockdown report also revealed that one third of young people are “overwhelmed” by feelings of panic on a daily basis. We must begin to address any mental health needs resulting from the past few months sooner rather than later. To increase support in this area I’m using this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week to relaunch my youth mental health charity, Beyond.
In this country, 75 percent of young people with a mental health problem do not receive the treatment they need (NHS Digital, 2018). I fear that this figure will worsen as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s my dream to move ‘Beyond’ this shameful statistic and be part a community where wellbeing is finally given the priority it deserves.
In this issue you will see how such a community is developing, thanks to nspirational individuals whose stories you will read, as well as organisations that are making a difference. But it is up to all of us to continue the conversation on mental health beyond this week and into the future.
- Jonny Benjamin, MBE, is one of the country’s leading mental health campaigners. In 2014 his social media campaign to find the stranger who talked him out of taking his own life put the issues of suicide and mental illness on the national agenda like never before. The story of his campaign was told in the acclaimed film, The Stranger on the Bridge.