Quieting the Silence About Mental Illness and Addiction
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gabby Spatt, Executive Director
Phone: (404) 490-2391
Quieting the Silence About Mental Illness and Addiction
Book aims to eliminate the stigma and get people talking
ATLANTA — Nearly one in five Americans 18 years and older experienced a mental illness in 2018. One in five Americans older than 12 used an illicit drug or misused a prescription opioid. Many, if not most, Jews even today believe these statistics don’t apply to them. And even some who admit there is a problem or who have experienced it personally find it very difficult even to talk about these issues. The shame and stigma that persist keep people from speaking out and seeking — or offering — help.
The Blue Dove Foundation, a young nonprofit based in Atlanta, is trying to change that mindset along with the narrative around mental illness and substance abuse in the Jewish community.
“For the longest time, we as a group avoided any discussion about mental health issues,” said Gabby Spatt, executive director of the Blue Dove Foundation. “Our goal is to educate people about the issues and provide them with the tools to understand, support and overcome the challenges presented by mental illness and addiction. Once we eradicate the shame and stigma surrounding these issues, we can begin to improve and save lives.”
#QuietingTheSilence, an anthology of personal stories published by Blue Dove in early 2020, is helping to realize that goal and get people talking. The book gives voice to individuals who have gone through life-changing experiences involving mental health and substance use. Those telling their stories share painful emotional struggles with their own mental illnesses and addictions, and those of their spouses, children, siblings and parents. Some stories have happy endings, while others speak of heart-breaking loss. Each carries a message of courage, faith and hope.
“Who we are is rooted in the idea of storytelling,” said Spatt. “It’s our cornerstone; it’s what we’re all about. We want to create a space where people can share their stories and show others they are not alone.”
The Blue Dove Foundation started in March 2018 to help address the issues of mental illness and substance abuse in the global Jewish community and beyond.
“We were hearing from more and more people about these problems, but they wanted to talk about them in whispers and hide them from their friends, family and community,” said Justin Milrad, who started Blue Dove with his wife, Alyza Berman Milrad, and Daniel Epstein. Both are psychotherapists who work with clients at the Berman Center in Atlanta, an intensive outpatient program for mental health, substance abuse and dual diagnosis that Berman Milrad founded.
“The fact that so few people felt comfortable talking about their personal, family and community struggles told us something had to be done to break down the barriers and silence the shame and stigma,” said Milrad. “We know mental illness and addiction occur at the same rate in the Jewish community as within the general community. We wanted to create a safe space to start conversations and encourage Jewish people to share their stories — to eliminate the silence surrounding mental health and addiction. Community is critical to recovery, and we believe by building an educated, supportive community, we can move forward to help and be there for one another. That was the genesis of the name of the book and the whole program: We wanted to ‘quiet the silence.’”
The foundation hosts #QuietingTheSilence programs at schools, synagogues and community centers. The main highlight of each event is the group of speakers sharing their stories. More than 200 people came to the first program in May 2018, far exceeding expectations.
“That’s when we knew the community was really ready for these conversations,” he said. “So many people showed up to support one another, and it really took off from there. But we know a lot more people who won’t come to our events, because they don’t feel comfortable telling their stories in person, or they don’t want to out themselves or their family. So we made the decision to write a book.”
“By hearing stories from people who look, live and act like us, we learn we are not alone,” added Spatt. “We find people who we can relate to, we build support for one another and we create community.”
The book offers a guide for navigating — or helping others to navigate — through some difficult topics. Its overall message is about speaking up and getting help when you need it — or encouraging someone else to seek help when necessary. In addition to the stories, #QuietingTheSilence includes essays on joy, gratitude and self-care; prayers for healing; a list of national help hotlines; and a mental health glossary. As well, many of the storytellers provide their personal information for anyone who wants to contact them.
“We tell our stories so others will summon the courage to face their own painful circumstances and seek the expert help that is now much more skilled and available than in the past,” said Dr. Michael Gordon, medical director of the Berman Center, in the book’s foreword. “I am humbled to have been asked to participate in this project with these honest and brave people. And I am hopeful something in these stories will give readers the impetus to make a decision, if necessary, to get the help they need for themselves or for a loved one.”
Learn more and download the book club guide at www.QuietingTheSilence.org. We encourage communities to create opportunities for sharing these stories.
ABOUT THE BLUE DOVE FOUNDATION
The mission of the Blue Dove Foundation is to educate, equip and ignite the Jewish community with tools to understand, support and overcome the challenges presented by mental illness and substance abuse. Based in Atlanta, we work with people and organizations across the United States and around the world. For more information about our work, visit us at www.thebluedovefoundation.org.