Nationwide there are various weeks devoted to raising awareness of different mental health conditions; OCD awareness week, eating disorder awareness week, suicide awareness week and so many more.
11th / 12th of January Jewish communities nationwide took part in Mental Health Shabbat. A Shabbat dedicated to raise awareness and address the stigma surrounding mental. MH Shabbat is annual and held deliberately when the Torah tells us the story of the Plague of Darkness, a perfect platform to allow discussions to take place about mental health.
It does often puzzle me why we need to dedicate one period of time or a day to talk about mental health? 1,000,000s of people suffer day in and day, but it is these days people feel it is OK and have permission to speak about their experiences and struggles. It angers me that people feel ashamed to speak or ask for help, afraid of being judged or look weak due to the unnecessary stigma surrounding mental health.
So where does the stigma come from? I believe it is there right from the word go.
At school we are taught about sex and drugs, yet mental health is never mentioned, not even the signs and symptoms to look out for, or encouraged to talk and express when we are struggling – we are scared of judgement or being laughed at for feeling what we “shouldn’t”. It is unspoken and taboo resulting in the inability to talk TRUTHFULLY of our feelings sticking with us for life, feeling ashamed or perceiving ourselves weak if things are not going well. It can feel impossible communicate feelings as we have never been taught how or that it is OK, therefore throughout life it has stigma.
We are hard wired to answer the question “how are you?” with “I am fine”, we would never say “well things are a bit difficult”. Why is that? What is wrong if things are not going well? It is life, we all have ups and downs so why can’t we be authentic of our feelings. Whether diagnosed or not diagnosed we all have mental health – it is totally normal to have times of difficulty and to be honest life would be a bit boring if it were always rainbows and butterflies!
The fact Mental Health Shabbat and different national awareness weeks exist are great to remind people and try to normalise these hushed subjects, I just wish it was not necessary to dedicate weeks to these.
I feel very lucky to be a part of WLS and though we mark Mental Health Shabbat I feel conversations around mental health are ongoing all the time here. Throughout my mental health struggles synagogue has been there constantly for me every step of the way with Helen visiting me in hospital, taking me out for coffee and now giving me the chance to support to others in the community who are struggling the C.B.T (Cake Before Therapy Café). Along with this support we are also lucky to have the social care groups offering support for bereavement and carers and so many more.
1 in 4 of you reading this article will be affected by mental health at some point in your lives. So let's talk about it, learn about it so people feel able to say when they are struggling, ask for help and less alone, to lessen the need for these special days.