Innovating mental health in the Chicago Jewish community

Jews around the Chicago area are working together to bring innovative mental health resources to the Jewish community and beyond.

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No Shame On U volunteers carry a banner at a local parade to bring mental health to the forefront of conversation.

The sentiment of Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh --all of Israel are responsible for one another--inspires people to care for those living with a mental health condition, even in a world where stigma causes many people to shy away. These entrepreneurs of kindness hope to care for the Jewish community as a whole, including its most vulnerable members, with programming, resources, and more.

JCFS Chicago, a JUF partner, is one organization helping many people in the Chicago area experiencing mental health challenges.  JCFS Chicago offers counseling, psychological testing, community education, and individualized support services to help empower children, teens, adults, and families to cope with mental health challenges. Through JCFS, people are connected to professional, peer, social, and community supports.

To learn more, visit jcfs.org

 

Sharing stories to smash stigma

While hospitalized for depression, Miriam Ament received a phone call from a close friend who said she only wanted to talk to her when she was happy--and never spoke to her again. "I kept my depression a secret for a long time" after that, Ament said.

An opportunity to eat lunch--and share her story--with actress Glenn Close changed everything. This encounter planted the seed for No Shame On U. A local Jewish mental health organization and JUF Breakthrough Fund grant recipient, it is dedicated to raising awareness of mental health conditions, and reducing the stigma of mental illness through community outreach programs, workshops, resources, and the power of stories.

One of these stories belongs to Ellie, a young adult diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. On a mission to "fight stigma on the front lines," she publishes weekly stories of her everyday experiences on No Shame On U's blog. Ellie explains, "Learning the facts about brain chemistry and acknowledging that mental illness exists are definitely important steps, but expressing this knowledge through compassion really changes things."

Learn more about No Shame On U at noshameonu.org or on Facebook.

 

Helping after the unthinkable

Six days after Stewart Dolin, a happily married father and senior partner at a law firm, was prescribed a medication for anxiety, he took his own life. For his widow, Wendy, this was incomprehensible.

"Nothing made sense," she says of the aftermath of her 57-year-old husband's sudden death. In her time of need, she approached several Jewish nonprofits, only to find a lack of resources for people whose family members died by suicide. Although she found meaningful programming at Catholic Charities, she "would have liked a Jewish perspective."

Wendy reached out to JUF's then-president Steven B. Nasatir, who suggested meeting with Miriam Ament from No Shame On U. The two presented their first joint event, "Shine A Light On Suicide," to Chicago in December.

To further her work, Dolin applied for and received a JUF Breakthrough Fund grant for her organization, Medication Induced Suicide Prevention and Education Foundation in Memory of Stewart Dolin (MISSD). She began with the goal of educating people about akathisia--a condition that contributed to Stewart Dolin's death, in which someone starting, stopping, or changing a medication experiences extreme inner restlessness and suicidal thoughts--and has grown from there to educate about other causes of suicide like mental illness, difficult life circumstances, and trauma.

Dolin stresses the importance of knowing you are not alone. Jews are "not immune to issues in the general world, and you shouldn't be ashamed."

For more information about MISSD, visit missd.co .

 

Bringing community to the marginalized

Some people living with a serious mental health condition feel isolated in their communities. The ARK, a partner of JUF, seeks to remedy this problem with its Intensive Day Program (IDP), led by clinical psychologist Na'ama Wasserman.

In addition to The ARK's counseling services, case management, referrals, and more, led by clinical director Vicki Hass, the IDP offers a day program that provides activities, support groups, classes, and therapy, all with a Jewish twist.

"There are so many people who have lost touch with their families and are isolated," said Hass, who is proud of the "sense of family and belonging that people have when they join the IDP program."

"For many members, Jewish identity is an important part of who they are," explained Wasserman. When participants celebrate Jewish holidays together, they receive social support from peers and counselors, which can make a huge difference.

"There's a tendency in the Jewish community to believe you have to pick yourself up from your bootstraps and as we move farther from our immigrant experience, everyone is well-off," Hass said. "It's uncomfortable and shaming for people to believe they haven't 'made it,' and they don't want their neighbors to know. But you have a right to come to the community for help and the community in turn has an obligation to perform acts of chesed (lovingkindness) and assist people in times of adversity."

Find more details about The ARK and the IDP program at arkchicago.org .

 

Saving lives with mental health first aid

Thanks to the widespread availability of CPR classes, many Americans can recognize signs of a heart attack. But what about signs of a mental health crisis?

Professionals like addiction specialist Nina Henry are teaching classes in Chicago called "mental health first aid," which began in Australia in the early 2000s and are now taught around the world. Like CPR classes, mental health first aid classes begin with the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis. The next steps in the eight-hour program involve learning language and skills along with experiential exercises to help people intervene in these situations and potentially save a life. With tailored versions for adults, teenagers, older adults, people in the criminal justice system, and first responders, "people feel emboldened and confident that they have the tools to help."

Henry also developed her own program, Tikkun HaNefesh, which traces the history of Jewish perspectives on mental health from Biblical times onward. She also speaks of the phenomenon of residual trauma in descendants of Holocaust survivors, mapping the "fierce determination and resilience of the Jewish people who continue to flourish through trauma."

Sign up for a mental health first aid class at mentalhealthfirstaid.org .  



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