Look to your left. Look to your right. Think of your friends, children’s friends, and neighbours. Think of your loved ones. It’s likely that someone you know has or will confront a mental health related issue. Indeed, concerns around mental health pose a challenge to our community and to the wider British society.
We live in a competitive world in which social, academic, and economic pressures, family tensions, popular culture and a focus on physical appearance burden us all. As the father of four teenage and adult children, I have seen this up close. We all have. The effect of smartphones and social media on their generation cannot be underestimated. Their social lives, academic grades, and physical image are publicly critiqued daily on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook and “likes” have become a sign of success. We are all constantly online and neither the home nor schools are as safe as they once were. Mental health related issues have undoubtedly increased in our community.
On average, three children in every school class struggle with their mental health and research shows that youngsters’ emotional health is the most important indicator of life satisfaction and personal outcomes in adulthood. Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can affect anyone, and children with such issues affect the entire family. Thankfully, schools and universities recognise this challenge, and are working with children, parents, teachers and professionals to address the problem. If a child can be helped, the whole family is helped.
At the Jewish Leadership Council, we are working collaboratively to address this issue. We have convened a task force with key organisations and professionals to map existing services, identify gaps in provision; and offer a comprehensive communal approach.
Nationally, the younger members of the Royal Family are drawing attention to mental health and reducing the stigma associated with it. In our community, Jami is doing the same, focusing on recovery, raising self-esteem and helping people fulfill their own potential. Head Room Café, Jami’s social enterprise, is a bustling social hub in Golders Green, providing discussion and guidance around all aspects of well-being.
The Mental Health Awareness Shabbat this week has become an important date in our communal calendar. Across the country, rabbis will be addressing the issue in their sermons; speakers will discuss it during youth services and engaging activities are planned for children. These events will help break the stigma and encourage those who need support to start their journey to recovery.
This is a problem we can only overcome through conversation and cooperation. Each of us must do our part.
Jonathan Goldstein is Chair of the Jewish Leadership Council