As the news and social media feed our need to know the daily covid cases and the impact on our daily lives and freedoms, the pandemic as we know still focuses of the immediate danger and threats of illness and the effect of the disease of our livelihoods and inability to plan ahead.
However festering beneath the surface there is a volcanic size pressure cooker gaining momentum in the form of the mental health issues this period of history is bringing and will need to be managed well into the future.
There is no demographic immune from these effects. From the small children missing out on the simple pleasures of playing at a park to school aged children missing key educational and social milestones, the pandemic has significantly introduced our youngest humans into a world very few generations before them have experienced.
At the other end of the spectrum are the older members of our society that have made the sacrifices and worked hard for a peaceful and stressful retirement. All they wanted was to spend more time with friends and families and enjoy the things that come with more spare time and freedoms.
Then you have the baby boomers. This was meant to be their time to shine. This would have been the time to spend the kid’s inheritance in the form of travel, activities and carefree days catching up with friends for coffee or a game of golf or maybe studying and picking up a hobby they never had time for in the past.
And what about Gen X. With children still at school or even in University they have had to balance working and living at home for the last 18 months while at the same time still managing their children’s expectations and stress levels.
This brings me to what I feel is a critical demographic, the young adults. From young teenagers to mid-twenties, this group has been affected in a way which may create the environment for the greatest level of mental health related issues going forward.
Whether it is social, educational or family issues this group may be facing, I am unsure if the Jewish community is collectively addressing and working towards efforts to manage this potential tittle wave of mental health related episodes that require essential services.
When it comes to mental health the distinction between reactive and proactive programs and services should be made. Reactive services would typically be in response to clinically diagnosed individuals requiring assistance from a GP, Psychologist or some of the many institutional facilities in the wider and Jewish community that cater for selective mental health issues from depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders to name a few. For anyone that is trying to see a GP or Psychologist for a child’s mental health diagnosis or treatment, there seems to be long waiting periods for appointments or simply not enough readily experienced and trained professional to deal with the compounding demand this pandemic has brought.
In parallel, proactive programs may include educational and training resources and collateral to increase the awareness of identifying and more importantly helping parents, family members, teachers or peers identify, deal with and interact with young people with mental health related syndromes.
I commend the discussion paper led by Alan Schwartz on the Jewish Schools Project for highlighting that Jewish education in any form is the collective responsibility of the community. There is not one stakeholder who has a monopoly on ideas or the ability to influence change alone.
My challenge to the Jewish community now is to address this mental health pandemic with a united and focused voice spearheaded by the talented and highly regarded industry professionals this community has produced. Just as the future of Jewish education continues to be a topical and important community issue, mental health needs to be elevated to the same priority.
Alongside these experts in the fields of psychology, service provision and youth behavioral sciences, we need our leading care providers such as Jewish Care to orchestrate and lead the discussion and ensure resources are collected and distributed in the most efficient and effective way sidelining any ego or control ulterior motives with the primary goal of helping to combat this wave of mental health that is currently spreading like a tsunami in our community.
We could focus on individual syndromes and outcomes like eating disorders but the best use of community funding and resources could potentially be directed into a unified community branded response of awareness and education. This strategy could focus on top line mental health and mental breakdowns in our youth aged between 12-25. These programs could focus on several pillars including; training young leaders to manage their peers and participants with mental health in a supportive and inclusive way within sporting, school, youth movements and CSG, as a parallel infrastructure to clinical help these young adults require. There could also be mentoring programs to match similar age individuals that have experienced similar patterns, capable of supporting and encouraging their peers through this period of their lives.
There could also be training and awareness programs for parents going through troubling times with one of more of their children. There should be no substitution for professional counseling and clinical support, however some form of training and educational sessions to identify patterns or early signs of mental health issues and a mechanism to support them while going through the episodes with their children.
Our community leaders and leading care organization must address this collectively to ensure a unified strategy and fund raising approach. The outcomes should direct and deliver the most effective support, infrastructure and programs based on expert advice, the best service delivery model and the best organizations to manage and provide these services to address and combat growing mental health challenges in our community.
Daniel Jenshel is a previous Jewish Care board member, past president of UJEB, advisory member to CCARE and co-founder of Men’s Haven