By Joy Nemerson, NFTY Social Action Vice President
This week was Mental Illness Awareness Week, an event that is held annually by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Since this year our action theme is Refuat Hanefesh: NFTY addresses mental health, it only made sense for us to spread awareness in the spirit of NAMI. The week began with the release of our NFTY Public Service Announcement about addressing stigmas. I have watched this video over 30 times and it still gives me chills (just now even thinking about it I got chills) because we aren’t just skimming the surface of this touchy issue… we’re embracing it and diving in.
The stigmas associated with mental illnesses and compromised mental health makes these subjects extremely hard to talk about. Earlier in the week, we posted a list of 10 myths about mental illness, here are a few from that list:
Myth #1: Psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. People who have a mental illness are just “crazy.”
Myth #4: Depression results from a personality weakness or character flaw, and people who are depressed could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough.
Myth #9: Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows a lack of willpower. People with a substance abuse problem are morally weak or “bad”.
It’s thoughts like these that make it so hard for people with mental health issues to seek help. It is often hard for people with a mental illness to confide in their friends and coworkers for fear that they will be judged and stigmatized. Why is it that we are not afraid to talk about other illnesses? I believe it has to do with the fact that we know a lot more about cancer or Crohn’s disease than we do about mental illnesses. The unknown makes people scared and unsure. As human beings, as Jews, and as a progressive youth movement we are prepared to explore the topic of mental health and do what we can to help eliminate the stigmas.
NFTY is ready to start the conversation… and this is only the beginning.