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'Long way to go' in tackling mental illness, says Jami expert

Using the 'social capital we have as the Jewish community' can be an advantage in helping sufferers, says charity's deputy head of services

    Louise Palmer, Jami’s deputy head of services, at Limmud
    Louise Palmer, Jami’s deputy head of services, at Limmud Photo: Ben Weich

    Formal training for communal leaders and better education to break down stigmas have been suggested as ways to change attitudes to mental illness in the community. 

    In a Limmud discussion led by the charity Jami, participants discussed how to deal with issues around mental health and the problems caused by stress.

    Louise Palmer, Jami’s deputy head of services, said the close-knit nature of the Jewish community was an asset to combating mental illness, but added that there is still a “long way to go”.

    She said: “There is a huge strength being part of a community, a religious or cultural community, and it’s about using that social capital we have as the Jewish community. There’s such a lot of strength there but we need to do more to connect the dots.

    “It’s a lot harder sometimes to know what to do when someone has a mental health issue but we need to ask. We just need to get the point as a community where we find a way to ask.

    “We’ve been on a journey to change attitudes but I think there is some way to go.”

    Jami’s second session, also led by Ms Palmer, looked at how to manage accumulated, “everyday” stress within the family structure.

    Participants, talking among themselves in small groups, spoke of the difficulties in juggling personal relationships with professional lives, as well as financial worries, bereavements and health concerns.

    Mrs Palmer said: “Sometimes our family dynamics aren’t always positive or exactly right. There are societal pressures around cultural things, and what we should be doing.

    “It’s no wonder we feel overworked and unable to juggle all the things we feel we have to do. Irritability, low moods, sometimes we can take it out on people close to us – and there are physical responses to this as well.”

    In between Jami’s two sessions, Marvin Shaw led a group meditation designed to explore the concept of “mindful Judaism”.

    His thesis is that many concepts within the faith, such as trust and order, are also integral to the practice of mindfulness, which has enjoyed a surge of interest among the wider public in recent years.

    Mr Shaw, who has written a number of books on the topic, said: “Sometimes simple prayer can be a type of meditation.

    “For me, the most obvious example is Shabbat. It’s the only day I’m technology free. I will not turn on the computer, internet, and it’s a great thing because I can’t control myself any other time.

    “Even just lighting Chanukah lights can be very mindful. Or hearing the shofar can be mindful. Hearing that noise, and it going into our hearts, that’s mindful.”

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