By Lynne Butner, Youth Programs Manager of NFTY Southwest
“People living with mental illness are our neighbors. They are members of our
congregations, members of our families; they are everywhere in this country. If
we ignore their cries for help, we will be continuing to participate in the anguish
from which those cries of help come. A problem of this magnitude will not go
away. Because it will not go away and because of our spiritual commitments, we
are compelled to take action.” −Rosalynn Carter
Why do I care so much about the NFTY action theme R’Fuat Hanefesh – Caring for the Soul: NFTY Addresses Mental Health? Sure I’m a social worker and that’s what my training is in, but why do I really care?
Because we know that 1 in 4 Americans will experience a serious mental disorder in his or her lifetime, including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe anxiety disorders.* We also know that the high school years are a prime time for the symptoms of some of these disorders to first make their appearance.
We also know that ninety percent of persons who die by suicide have had a diagnosable serious mental illness.*
But most importantly, I have seen what happens to the teens in our communities when they are suffering from mental illness. They are ashamed, they are scared, and they don’t want anyone else to know that they are suffering.
They don’t let us know what medications they are taking and how important it is that they take them on time.
They hide when they are having an anxiety attack or are feeling like they can’t cope or are out of control. They don’t let us know when the NFTY event is too overwhelming for them.
And sometimes they start to lose their friends because their friends don’t understand what they are going through.
It is so important that we all learn about mental illness – and that we understand that it is an illness, just like diabetes or a heart condition. And like these illnesses, with medication and medical help most people live healthy, productive lives. If you can recognize symptoms in yourselves and others then you can get help quickly.
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. I hope you will take a minute to learn about mental illness and to educate others. It isn’t a topic we should be embarrassed or scared to talk about.
NFTY, chances are high that your friends, or the people in your house or bunk at a NFTY event are struggling with mental illness. It’s even possible that you will suffer from a mental illness at some time in your life. Let’s work to make NFTY an accepting and comfortable place for NFTYites who need our understanding. Let’s work together to educate ourselves and others wo we can eradicate the stigma and discrimination that comes with the diagnosis of mental illness. Teens suffering from mental illness need help and support. They need friends and they need community. Let’s be that community.
To learn more about how NFTY supports Mental Illness Awareness Week, and what we’re doing to educate our community about mental health: