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The blog of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Philadelphia's Reform Jewish Synagogue
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Mental Health Awareness

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 11:54am

Earlier this summer, some high profile suicide deaths tragically reminded many of us of the critical, life-saving importance of mental health and mental health resources for this public health issue. This was the week the Jewish community read in the Torah from Parashat Shelach Lecha. The story in the Book of Numbers describes the 12 scouts who go ahead to assess the Land of Israel, as the Israelites are anticipating the whole people’s arrival to the land. Two of the scouts felt confident enough to move forward: Joshua and Caleb. The other ten scouts were too discouraged by what they saw. For when they approached the land, they perceived its inhabitants as giants, and in their own eyes, they were as grasshoppers.

Grasshoppers. Any of us can feel small. But when someone feels so small, so grasshopper-like, and sees everything else as a giant, the world can feel impossible, and despair can overwhelm.

More and more, our society is offering important resources to help people who struggle with mental illness and to bring this public health issue out of stigma and into the light. Inspired by our tradition’s mandate of “pekuach nefesh/to save a life” and by our community’s vision to create profound connections, we are learning from such resources.

One way for us to learn is to bring educated sensitivity to our language about difficult issues. From the original creation story’s narrative that God created the world with words, beginning with, “Let there be light,” our people have understood that words can create and words can destroy. In the case of suicide, simple language choices in the media and beyond have the potential to influence behavior negatively by contributing to contagion, or positively by encouraging help-seeking (from: reportingonsuicide.org). In language, we can avoid sensationalist language, method of death, or referring to suicide as successful or unsuccessful. We can say one died by suicide instead of committed, as committing implies criminality when the choice emanates from inconceivable despair. We can emphasize crisis center resources, include warning signs and resources.

Within our congregation, we strive to de-stigmatize mental illness by bringing it out of the shadows and into the light. We seek ways to support or connect people who are struggling, or whose loved ones are struggling. Our Caring Community is now working to add a related support group; if you would like to be involved, please contact our
}co-chairperson Betsy Fiebach ([email protected]).

Your clergy, as well as your Caring Community, is here for you. Jewish Family and Children Services is an important resource. And if you or someone you know is in immediate need of expertise and support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) which provides 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Suicide Awareness:  Warning Signs

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Suicide Awareness: What to Do

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room, or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

This list is from reportingonsuicide.org