NFTY-PAR: Stamping out the Stigma Against Mental Illness

By Samantha Prager, NFTY-PAR SAVP

At NFTY-PAR’s Fall Kallah the NFTY Action theme, R’Fuat Hanefesh – Caring for the Soul, played a key role within the core of the event. Throughout the weekend, PARites participated in various services dealing with stress and meditation, as well as programs dealing with the mind and soul. The Saturday afternoon program consisted of educating PARites about various mental illnesses and breaking the Stigma that goes along with them.

As many people know, the stigma of mental illness is very negative. For example, people often associate mental illness with being “crazy” or “scary”, when in fact, many more people deal with mental illness than you probably realize. The stigma exists almost purely because of ignorance. The reason why the issue of mental illness is taboo, and hardly ever addressed is because it is sometimes tough for people to face what is unknown to them. When someone breaks a leg and comes to school with crutches, you see people opening the door for them, and asking to hold their backpack. But you cannot see when someone has a mental illness. It is exactly that, that NFTY-PAR addressed at this Fall Kallah.

During the program, PARites sat silently in a room, and watched a PowerPoint that told them facts and statistics about mental illnesses, it made them self reflect and learn. Then, they went all around the room where readings were posted of people who did not understand mental illness. Though these readings were created for the program, their messages were very real. I could almost hear a pin drop as everyone walked around the room reading. I could see people were shocked by the stories and situations within the readings. Issues that were addressed consisted of depression, ADHD, Bulimia, Schizophrenia, OCD, and bipolar disorder.

After the readings, participants were then informed about all of the mental illnesses and the situation within the story was explained. Following this, NFTY-PAR broke up into groups and addressed the stigma. With an educated mind, all participants were able to tackle the stigma and come up with solutions. I could not be more proud of NFTY-PAR; everything they came up with is absolutely amazing. Their solutions to the stigma consisted of …

 “I will not be a bystander, I will further educate myself and those around me, I will not say the R work, I will turn this reaction into an action”…were just a few of the suggestions they discussed.

Concluding the program, Psychologist Michael Freidman asked participants to share their thoughts. He asked us intriguing questions that sparked creativity and intelligence. He taught us what to do if someone we know has a mental illness, as well as when to step in, and when to let go. He guided the ending of the program to a positive and innovative way. Rabbi Stacy Rigler followed, and she discussed Jewish values with mental Illness and the beauty of a mitzvah. She discussed how being Jewish, requires all of us, as our Jewish duty to be there for someone in need, no matter the reason. Therefore as a Jew, we must be there for those who need us and that includes people who have a mental illness. This program enlightened NFTY-PAR on so many levels. We educated ourselves, opened our minds, and listened to one another as NFTY-PAR has addressed mental illness.

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