Mental Health Awareness
It is hard to look around today at our society and see the degree to which mental health is neglected. As Jewish tradition teaches, a healthy body and a healthy mind are equally important to living a full and satisfying life. Moreover, the commandment to care for our own health and well-being is one of the most important ones in our tradition.
Yet today’s society does not live up to those ideals. Though the past two decades have seen great strides in overcoming the stigma of mental illness, we know that more must be done to raise awareness about mental health, support those struggling with mental illness and their loved ones, and eradicate ongoing instances of discrimination. And, as Rabbi Marci N. Bellows of URJ congregation Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh, NY, wrote last month, more must be done within the Jewish community:
In the Jewish world, we don’t do enough to discuss mental illness. It still holds incredible stigma, and we are scared to utter certain words aloud (depression, panic, bipolar, breakdown, schizophrenia…) for fear of permanently labeling ourselves or others. We have no problem sharing our stories about struggles with weight issues, heart disease, or diabetes, but very few are brave enough to share their own experiences with mental illness. Thus, anyone who is suffering, suffers alone.
The Reform Movement understands the importance of mental health and has passed a number of resolutions affirming this. Additionally, the Religious Action Center’s mental health issue page provides a wealth of resources to guide you in learning more about mental health in North America, the Jewish perspective on mental health, key pieces of relevant legislation, and places to go for more information.
You can also consult the following URJ publications to learn about the vast Jewish textual support for caring for mental illness and read sample sermons and liturgy: “Caring for the Soul: R’fuat HaNefesh,” “Resilience of the Soul,” and “L’tapeach Tikvah: To Nourish Hope.”
In the Jewish prayer for healing, we ask for refuah sheleimah, a complete recovery of both body and soul. Our prayers are important, but so too is action. If we all look out for one another, we can defeat any lingering stigma attached to mental illness.
Photo courtesy of kff.org