Communities are not mental health services, so what is our role?

Mental health terms (Jewish News)
Mental health terms (Jewish News)

Mental health is in the news every day.

Young people seem to be struggling more than ever, workplaces are impacted by the mental health of staff, celebrities are sharing the difficulties behind the personas they present to the world – it is clear we all have mental health needs and we will all have challenges to our mental health in our lifetimes.

The Jewish community is no exception to these wider trends.

Examples of challenges can be found in all of our institutions – from our synagogues in their attempts to be there for all of their members, our Jewish schools which are responsible for the education of an ever-increasing proportion of our young people and our services which seek to fill the gaps in care and provision that we are all at risk of falling through at some point.

Given the challenges faced with tackling mental health seriously fall so often on the infrastructure of our community, it is vital we do better to be prepared to support those around us.

Within Reform Judaism, we have taken that responsibility seriously – that is why communities at our biennial conference, Chagigah, pledged to take a proactive role. It is also why this week we held our Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference to give our community leaders the foundations they need to build communities which succeed in supporting all of their members.

Communities are not mental health services, though. So what is our role?

One great way all of our communities can promote positive mental health is through the NHS’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. Just as eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day is a great way to start being physically healthier, these five steps provide a solid foundation to support ourselves and those around us in building positive mental health.

These steps are simple – connect, be active, take notice, learn and give – but can be incredibly powerful in the effect they can have on people’s lives.

Last year our Reform communities committed to building these foundations of positive mental health as cornerstones of what we do.

Since then, our Communities that Care Initiative Network has been exploring ways to make these opportunities more accessible to more people.

Critically, we must all consider those who might find it hard to take that first step into a new environment, or even to get out of bed. It is one thing building positive structures in our communities, but often those who could most benefit are those who face barriers in accessing them.

Just as we are taught that we must remove stumbling blocks from the blind, so must we be proactive in enabling more people connected to our communities to access the opportunities we put in place.

It is vital we all do more to understand the barriers, challenges and stigmas which exclude people from community and take the initiative to tackle these issues to become more open, welcoming and supportive to everyone.

We must also remember our limitations at every step. Many people need professional support in order to tackle the challenges they face with their mental health. Knowing our limits is not a negative – even here we still have a vital role to play in being able to see when and where to signpost people to find the professional help they require. Understanding this need is vital to protecting everyone.

We must ensure we work closely with organisations within the Jewish community and beyond who provide invaluable services supporting both individuals and our communities as a whole.

In the Psalms we read that the world is built on chesed – on the love of caring for one another. To build our communities on chesed, we must build the structures that are able to strengthen every person we have a connection with. As one of the major challenges we face as a society, we must ensure we are supporting mental health as much as we support any other form of challenge people may face. It may seem daunting, but there are steps we are all able to take. I hope we can all take them and work individually and as communities to make the Jewish community a place of wellbeing for all.

About the Author
Sharon is Reform Judaism UK and RSY-Netzer’s Wellbeing and Inclusion Manager
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