It’s time to put our community’s mental health first

Your help can also come in the form of volunteering, supporting friends and families and trying to identify those in need


Hands clasped, soldier sitting and military person with anxiety, depression or problem on sofa. Army man, couch and ptsd, stress and crisis after war, trauma and waiting in living room alone in home

September 28, 2023 14:27

As a psychiatrist, working with those under the age of 18 impacted by a range of mental health disorders, I see the most unwell and high-risk individuals, who often need a combination of pharmacological treatment, psychological therapy and social support.

Over nights and at weekends, I cover the A&E departments of local hospitals, assessing and supporting young people who present in crisis or severe distress.

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of people presenting to mental health services and an increase in the severity of their disorders. The complexity of individual cases is also necessitating the involvement of many agencies.

Although staff in the NHS are working very hard, the demand is overwhelming.

The waiting lists for treatment are very long and some people are finding it hard to access services. Because of stretched resources, there is a focus on crisis support and reducing significant harm, as opposed to early detection and prevention.

It makes me realise how lucky we are, as a community, to have Jami – The Jewish Association for Mental Illness.

If my patients were Jewish, they could access Jami’s children and young person’s service, which provides one-to-one support to 11–18-year-olds in school at JCoSS and JFS, as well as across the community.

In addition, their families could be supported by Jami’s carers’ groups, as well as the daily peer-led activities and groups at Jami’s Head Room café in Golders Green.

Having an organisation such as Jami is very important because its staff understand the complexity of individuals’ needs and the nuances that come with cultural context. Jami does more than support people with mental illness.

It advocates for them, helps their families and carers and educates the whole community.

What differentiates Jami from many other mental health charities is that it has people with lived experience involved in every aspect of the charity. This means it truly understands the people it serves, which strengthens the impact of its support.

People struggling with their mental health also need to feel seen and supported, so reducing stigma within the community is also very important to Jami.

I believe in the values of Jami and the ambitious strategic direction the charity is taking. I also believe that as a service that understands Jewish culture, Jami is best placed to support our community.

This is why I chose to sign the open letter published in this paper. Although mental health is often spoken about in the media, I don’t think people truly realise or understand the scale of the issue.

A lot of suffering is happening behind closed doors but is often not talked about within the Jewish community.

Statistics show that many people in the community are struggling with their mental health. Psychiatrists and other frontline doctors are seeing the issues every day, and we are keen to raise the profile and awareness of mental illness and distress and support it in whatever way we can.

Although the Jewish community is taking steps to raise awareness of mental health, there is still a way to go to achieve parity with physical health. I would like to see the community step up its support for mental health.

This support can be financial, so that Jami can increase the services that it offers and the number of people it benefits.

Help can also come in the form of volunteering, supporting friends and families and trying to identify those in need. I hope this open letter will also encourage people to talk more about mental illness and distress, so as to reduce the stigma they carry.

Dr Abigail Swerdlow is a psychiatrist at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and a Jami trustee

September 28, 2023 14:27

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