Mental health facts and tips

How can I mark Jami Mental Health Shabbat?

This special Shabbat is an opportunity for us to encourage conversations on mental health, raise awareness of mental illness and distress and share ideas on how to support ourselves and others within our community.

There are many ways for you, your synagogue, school, student or youth group to get involved and everyone can mark Jami Mental Health Shabbat in their own way.

Some communities choose to arrange for members of their congregation to share their lived experience or invite mental health professionals to lead a talk, discussion or panel event.

This toolkit of resources has been put together to assist you, including sermons, youth activities, and much more.

Key Facts on mental health

What is mental health?

Mental health refers to our cognitive, behavioural and emotional wellbeing – it is all about how we think, feel and behave.  It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.

Mental health also includes a person’s ability to enjoy life – to attain a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. 

What is mental illness?

A medically diagnosable illness that can result from a number of factors, including biological or developmental. It can affect the way we feel, act and think and disrupts our ability to work or carry out other daily activities and engage in satisfying personal relationships. It can be managed through prevention, diagnosis, treatment and mental health recovery.

What is mental health recovery?

Mental health recovery means being able to live a good life, as defined by the individual, with or without symptoms. It is a unique and personal experience that can have its ups and downs. Mental health recovery focuses on what a person CAN do rather than on what they can’t. It is not necessarily easy or straightforward. Many people describe the need to persevere and to find ways to maintain hope through the most trying times.

Parity of Esteem

The principle by which mental health must be given equal priority to physical health. It was enshrined in law in 2012. The government requires NHS England to work for parity of esteem between mental and physical health through the NHS Mandate. This has still not yet been realised. 

Key facts on mental illness:

  • Data from a survey held in November-December 2022 tells us that 26% of the Jewish community are living with mental illness, distress and trauma, or had done so in the three months prior to the study. And these difficulties affect over 55% of under 25s. (Institute of Jewish Policy Research, 2023)
  • In 2021, there were 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales, equivalent to a rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people. (ONS, 2022)

  • In a Student Minds survey of 1,037 students, 57% of respondents self-reported a mental health issue and 27% said they had a diagnosed mental health condition. (Student Minds, 2022)

  • People with mental health problems are nearly twice as likely as those without to say they have felt unable to cope due to the rising cost of living. (Money and Mental Health Policy Institute Report, 2022)

How to have conversations about mental health

If you are concerned about someone and think they may be struggling with their mental health, here are some tips to help you start, manage and bring the conversation to a close.

Starting the conversation

  • Ask someone how they are doing or feeling. Encourage them to engage, with an open question focused on them and their wellbeing.
  • Use your own experiences as a conversation starting point. Be clear on what you’re happy to share before you get started.
  • Find a quiet place with an informal atmosphere, such as a café.
  • If someone approaches you wanting to talk and you can’t give them the time they need there and then, show them you recognise that they’ve taken a positive step by speaking to you. Then explain why you can’t talk now and arrange a better time to have the conversation. If they are in urgent need of help, be sure to signpost them to support.

Someone in urgent need of help

If you think someone needs urgent help, for example, if you think they might attempt suicide or self-harm or have seriously harmed themselves, you can support them in the following ways.

  • If they are not safe by themselves, stay with them and help them call 999 for an ambulance, if you feel able to do so. Or you could help them get to A&E.
  • If they can keep themselves safe for a little while, get quick medical advice by contacting NHS 111. Or you could help them make an emergency GP appointment to see a doctor. You can also encourage them to call the Samaritans on 116 123 to talk to someone, 24 hours a day.

Managing the conversation

  • Give someone the space and time to talk as it makes it more likely for them to open up. Reflecting the words they’ve used can encourage them to open up even more.
  • Actively listen to the person by giving them your undivided attention. Leave any questions or comments until the person has finished, so you don’t interrupt them.
  • Use empathetic statements such as: “I appreciate this must be difficult for you…”
  • Avoid clichés. Comments like “pull yourself together” or “you’re just having a bad day” are unhelpful.
  • Avoid asking too many questions, especially closed questions (which require a “yes” or “no” answer) and those that begin with “why?.” Ask open questions to invite a more detailed response:
    • Can you describe how you’re feeling?
    • How do you look after yourself?
    • What support do you have in place?
  • Remind them that mental health problems are more common than people think, and that they can affect anyone at any time.
  • Reassure them it’s positive they want to talk about their experience, and that they’ve acknowledged they want support (if this is the case).
  • Remember to listen rather than give advice – the person needs to be able to act for themselves.
  • Ask if they’re aware of sources of support, and signpost them to relevant information and help, rather than telling them what you think is best. It may be helpful to ask “What would you like to happen in this situation?” This will help to empower and encourage them to take the course of action that seems right to them. Be clear about what you can do, as well as what you can’t.

Closing the conversation

Offering a listening ear and showing your acceptance, warmth and regard can go a long way to help someone. However, there will come a point when you need to close the conversation. This may happen naturally, or you may have to provide a gentle indication that it has come to an end. Closing conversations effectively helps to reassure the person that their thoughts and feelings have been listened to and helps to clarify next steps.

  • If you have to bring the conversation to a close, you could say something like: “It’s been good to talk. We’ve covered a lot.”
  • Invite them to take some time to reflect on what you’ve discussed, and to consider what they may want to do next. Do understand, however, that it may not be possible to get a clear idea of the next steps they’ll take.
  • Ask practical questions, such as “Will someone be there when you get home?” or “Is there a friend you can go and see?”
  • If you feel it would be helpful, and you’re able to commit to giving more of your time in this way, you may want to arrange another time to meet and talk.

Where to get help with your mental health

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, there are a variety of options depending on the issue of concern.

  • Jami Qwell – free, safe, anonymous mental health counselling and online support from the UK’s leading online mental health platform. To find out more go to qwell.io/jami
  • SHOUT – 24/7 crisis text service – Text Jami to 85258
  • Jami is here to help with mental health support: jamiuk.org/get-support/referral, call 020 8458 2223 or email info@jamiuk.org
  • Jewish Listening Line on 0800 652 9249 (Sunday – Thursday 12:00 – 00:00; Friday 12:00 – 15:00)
  • Ring your GP or out of hours service for an emergency appointment
  • Contact your Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) if you have one
  • Samaritans – Call Samaritans on Freephone 116 123 (24 hours a day) 
  • Call the Papyrus HopelineUK, on 0800 068 41 41 or text 07786209697 if you are under 35 and worried about how you are feeling. Or call if you are worried about a young person. 
  • Call 999 or NHS Direct on 111 (England) or 0845 46 47 (Wales)
  • Don’t hesitate to call 999 in mental health emergencies

Mental health and Judaism

The sources below can be used as a starting point to discuss how mental health fits into religion and culture. How does Judaism recognise the importance of looking after ourselves? What ideas from Judaism can we use to boost our wellbeing?

You may want to think about other textual sources or ideas in Judaism which support our mental health e.g. trying to use technology less or not at all over Shabbat can boost our mental health by giving us a break from screen-time. This gives us time to maximise face-to-face communication or focus our time on other hobbies and activities we enjoy.

A valuable lesson

“It is long past time for us all to break the silence and speak openly about mental illness. It is time for this last stigma to fall and fall quickly in the recognition that we are all created b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of G-d)” – Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, 2001

A key part of education is leading from the front. Just by educating about mental health we are raising awareness that we all have mental health and we need to look after our wellbeing to maintain it. We are role modelling the importance of looking after ourselves and teaching a valuable lesson.

Do we have the concept of mental illness in Judaism?

Prayer for the sick
Refuat Ha’Nefesh, V’refuat Ha’guf / Healing the soul and healing the body

Judaism shows us a connection of healing the soul and healing the body; there is no division between mental and physical illness. There is only illness. Likewise, everyone has both physical and mental health which changes over time and needs looking after.

Does Judaism help?

“The support individuals derive from the members, leaders and clergy of religious congregations is widely considered one of the key mediators between spirituality and mental health. Spiritual or religious support can be a valuable source of self-esteem, information, companionship and practical help that enables people to cope with stress and negative life events” – Mental Health Foundation, The Impact of Spirituality on Mental Health.

Religion and culture can provide us with a sense of community and belonging. Within these communities we know that there are people we can turn to and trust when we need them.

How does Judaism help?

Pirkei Avot 1:6
Aseh Lecha Rav, V’Kneh Lecha Haver
Make for yourself a Rabbi (teacher) and acquire for yourself a friend.

We all need someone to talk to sometimes, whether we turn to a Rabbi or Rebbetzin for guidance or a friend for support. Most of us will have a community, family and friends who we can turn to.

Parshat Va’etchanan 5:12
Shamor et Yom HaShabbat
Keep (Guard) Shabbat

However we choose to mark Shabbat, Judaism recognises the need to “switch off” from our busy lives and reconnect with those around us. Whether we find comfort in, or feel connected to familiar routines and rituals or choose not to use technology for a while, these are great ways to boost our mental health.

Pirkei Avot 1:14
Im Ein Ani Li, Mi Li. U’KeSheAni L’Asmi, Mah Ani?
If I Am Not For Myself, Who Will Be For Me? And If I’m Only For Myself, What Am I?

This reminds us of the importance to look after ourselves when caring for others. Finding the balance between looking after our own welfare and the welfare of others. It’s the equivalent of putting your oxygen mask on first, before you help others.