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Stuart Katz

Stepping Up to the Plate

Be An All-Star

Stepping Up to the Plate:

Rallying Support for Loved Ones Battling Depression

Introduction 

“Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd!” Ah, how these lyrics stir memories of cheering crowds, buzzing excitement, and a shared spirit of camaraderie. Yet, beneath the bright lights of the stadium, we’re reminded that life – much like a ballgame – is a team sport, a game where victory lies not in solitary home runs but in our collective efforts and shared resilience.

“Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, I don’t care if I ever get back!” A timeless melody that, in its simplicity, captures the essence of unity and shared joy, reminding us that we’re in this together. The exhilaration of the crowd, the shared anticipation of the next pitch, the collective sigh as a pop fly ball is caught – it all emphasizes our interconnectedness, our shared humanity.

This unity, this community, is crucial when it comes to supporting mental well-being. In the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives, let’s not forget to check in on our teammates, extend a hand when they’re down, and cheer them on as they step up to the plate to face life’s challenges, like depression.

So, hey there, you All-Stars! Parents, siblings, mentors, rabbis, educators, even you, dog-walker strolling by! As we get into the swing of the Mid-Summer Classic, it’s time to shine a spotlight on the true champions among us – those stepping up to home plate to face an unspoken yet common adversary: DEPRESSION.

Whether you’re a seasoned slugger or a rookie just stepping onto the diamond, this is your call to action. It’s time to dust off your cleats, don your jersey, and unite as a team. Because when it comes to tackling depression, we’re not just individuals – we’re an all-star team. So, let’s join forces, swing for the fences, and run the bases together. We can, and we WILL, make a difference. Let’s play ball!

First Inning – Recognizing the Game

Depression is like a sneaky curveball thrown in the middle of the biggest game. One minute everything’s cruising along just fine and the next – wham! – you’re facing a challenge like no other. It could be your friend, your spouse, your kid, your chavruta, your chanich, your grandparent, or even your next-door neighbor. You see, depression doesn’t always come with a flashing neon sign on the jumbotron. Sometimes, there are no outward signs at all. But that doesn’t make it any less real or less critical. This fight isn’t just about the person standing in the batter’s box; it’s about us, the entire team. Everyone in the dugout, the field, the stands, even if watching at home – we’re all in this game together. And like in any sport, everyone has a role to play, from the power hitter to the pinch-runner. We’re all part of this larger lineup, this team of life, and we all have a crucial role in supporting our loved ones as they swing for the fences.

Second Inning – Huddling for the Playbook

Depression isn’t just feeling a little down and out, and it certainly won’t disappear after drowning in some sorrow in Aldo or binging with your favorite season of Shtisel. It’s an intimidating opponent that knows how to play hardball, ready to strike at the most unexpected moments. This isn’t a short, leisurely practice game – oh no! This is more like the nail-biting World Series, where every pitch matters.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We all need to come together – as parents, friends, teachers, neighbors – as a community – to support our loved one through each pitch, each hit, and each run. Because remember, in the grand game of life, the final score isn’t as important as how we played the game.

Third Inning – Perfecting the Pitch

The power of our words in this journey can be likened to a perfectly timed swing in baseball – they can either send the ball soaring into the stands for a home run or cause an embarrassing strikeout. In the game of managing depression, our dialogue should be a conduit for hope and understanding. Telling someone “But you don’t look sad,” or “snap out of it” is about as useful as telling a baseball player who has sprained their ankle, “But you don’t look hurt.” It’s like expecting an injured player to perform a perfect slide to first base. It’s not going to work.

Instead, we need to channel the energy of a passionate crowd in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, score tied. We need to be their rallying cry, encouraging with messages of acceptance, love, and unity. Let our voices echo the sentiments of understanding, echoing around the field, becoming the national anthem of our fight against depression.

Fourth Inning – Fielding the Challenges 

Depression is a game that’s as unpredictable as a wild pitch. It can swing in any direction without any warning, keeping us constantly on our toes. Some days, it might bring an unexpected torrent of sadness, the kind that leaves you feeling as though you’re standing at the plate in the pouring rain, struggling to see the next pitch. On other days, it might serve up a stifling heatwave of despair, so intense it feels like playing under the midday sun in the peak of summer without any shade in sight.

While we can’t always foresee these abrupt changes or control the ebb and flow of the game, we’re far from powerless. Just as every skilled infielder relies on their glove, their agility, and their instinct, we can prepare our defense with the right equipment: patience, understanding, empathy, and even a touch of humor.

Together, armed with these invaluable tools, we create a defensive wall, a protective circle around our loved one. We become their safeguard, their steadfast infielders, ready to leap, dive, and slide to keep them safe at home plate. It’s through this collective resilience that we can keep our loved ones standing tall, bat in hand, ready to face the next pitch, no matter what curveballs life might throw.

Fifth Inning – Rounding the Bases 

Our playbook’s star strategy in this challenging game of life begins with the simple yet profound act of active listening. See, our loved one in the throes of depression doesn’t need a strict team manager loudly barking instructions from the dugout. They don’t need someone constantly trying to strategize every move or control the game. What they need – what they truly yearn for – is a team, a united front.

They need a community of players ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the batting cage, willing to share in their struggles, their anxieties, and their triumphs. They need us, their team, to extend a supportive glove, catch the wild throws with them, and continually reassure them that we’re in this together. “We’re right here with you,” we say, “through every strikeout and every grand slam. We’re here through the victorious cheers and the deafening silence. You don’t have to rush. Take your time.”

This act of active listening, of shared presence, provides them with the comfort and security they need. This is our top tactic, our star player, in the challenging game against depression. As we silently stand in solidarity, we’re reminding our loved one that no matter what happens, no matter the game’s score, they’re never alone at the plate. They have a team, and we’ve got their back.

Sixth Inning – Calling in the Relief Pitchers

Next up, it’s time to call in the big guns, our relief pitchers: the mental health professionals. Much like the seasoned pros who come in during the late innings, these therapists and mental health experts have seen it all. They’ve got a wealth of experience tucked under their caps, having played on various fields under different conditions. Their training is their playbook, loaded with strategies and tactics specifically designed to tackle the curveballs depression throws. Their invaluable expertise is our secret weapon, our power hitter, that can change the course of the game, ensuring our loved ones have the best support they need to round the bases safely.

Seventh Inning Stretch – Bringing It Home

But remember, the game doesn’t end when we step off the diamond. Imagine if every boss, every coworker, every friend understood this. Picture your workplace cultivating an environment that truly understands mental health. Colleagues and managers are becoming the supportive dugout, promoting a culture of understanding and inclusion.

And it doesn’t stop there. Our network of friends, local communities, shuls, and neighbors can be like the fans in the stands, offering an energizing change of pace and scenery when it’s most needed. The wider our network, our support squad, the more fortified our loved one’s lineup becomes. So, let’s step up and ensure our loved ones are surrounded by a winning team both on and off the field.

Eighth Inning – Nurturing a Culture of Acceptance

In addition to celebrating these subtle wins, we should also aim to create a culture of openness within our team, our family, our community. Depression shouldn’t be like the quiet player on the bench, ignored or whispered about in hushed tones. No, it deserves a place in the open, a spot in the limelight, where it can be recognized and addressed head-on.

Initiating open and candid conversations about depression can act like the rallying cheer from the crowd in the seventh inning stretch, emboldening others who are silently grappling with similar curveballs. This transparency and openness can encourage them to step forward, to lift their heads, and seek help. It’s an act of courage, showing them that their feelings are seen, their struggles acknowledged, and most importantly, they’re not alone in their fight.

By fostering such an environment, we’re extending a warm hand to those feeling isolated in their battle with depression. We’re telling them, “You are part of our team, and we see you.” This simple act of recognition can mean the world to someone feeling lost in their struggle, offering them comfort, solace, and a sense of belonging during their challenges.

Ninth Inning – Cultivating the Spirit of Resilience

As we head into the final innings, let’s remember that our collective efforts are our greatest strength. We must remind our loved one – and ourselves – that no one is alone in this game. We are a team, a community, and together, we’re formidable.

Every pep talk, every shared moment of silence, every understanding nod holds power. Each act of empathy adds another brick to our fortress of support, bolstering our loved one’s resilience against the relentless opponent of depression.

Post-game Reflection

In the multifaceted, unpredictable game that is depression, there are no players warming the bench. Everyone is in the starting lineup. Each one of us has a critical role to play. Let’s remind ourselves, our loved ones, and each other that we’re a unified front – a team that stands together through the victories and the defeats, always.

Remember, it’s the strong team spirit, the mutual support, and shared empathy that helps us navigate the toughest innings, the most grueling pitches. The unity we actively foster today, the connections we strengthen, the love we demonstrate, can ultimately swing the game in our favor tomorrow.

So, here’s to you – to us – the unsung heroes of this seemingly unending match. You’re the catcher in the rye, the star pitcher, the reliable infielder, and the steadfast outfielder, constantly making tough catches, always keeping the game in play. We’re the heart and soul of this team. Let’s keep that spirit, that flame of collective strength and support, alive and burning brightly. Because together, we’re not just a team – we’re a community, and there’s no force stronger than that.

Conclusion 

That, my friends, is our shared game plan when we’re in the batter’s box, ready to swing for our loved ones grappling with the curveballs of depression. As we navigate this journey, rounding the bases one careful step at a time, let’s remember: it’s not all about hitting grand slams or stealing home.

Instead, it’s about cheering on the small wins: a shared laugh that pierces the cloud of despair, a moment of understanding that bridges the gap between silence and conversation, a comforting presence that reassures, “you’re not alone.” Each of these tiny triumphs is a crucial run, nudging us closer to our goal.

The end goal? It’s not about racking up the highest score or knocking it out of the park every time. It’s about ensuring our loved ones make it safely home, that they’re able to slide into that home plate knowing they have a full team behind them, cheering them on every step of the way.

So, as we gear up for this Mid-Summer Classic, let’s not forget that in this league, we’re all All-Stars in 2023. Each and every one of us, shining in our own unique way, is the Most Valuable Player. We bring our strength, our love, and our unwavering spirit to this formidable team. We keep stepping up to the plate, we keep swinging for the fences, and most importantly, we keep rooting for our team.

Above all, let’s keep the faith. Faith in the power of our unity, in the strength of our compassion, and in the resilience of our loved ones. When we stand together in the face of depression, we’re not just a team – we’re an unstoppable force. And together, we’ll make sure everyone makes it home. PLAY BALL! LIVE LIFE!

About the Author
Stuart is a co-founder of the Nafshenu Alenu mental health educational initiative founded in 2022. He currently serves on the Board of Visitors of McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University Medical School. He serves as Chairman of the Board of OGEN – Advancement of Mental Health Awareness in Israel; chairman of Mental Health First Aid Israel and a partner in “Deconstructing Stigma” in Israel. He is on the Board of Directors of the Religious Conference Management Association. He has counseled over 7,000 individuals and families in crisis
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