The end of the year can be a joyous, but difficult time. Stress levels can soar, and the sense of loneliness may appear for some, but more than anything individuals need community.
It’s time for the Jewish community to #QUIET THE SILENCE and eradicate the shame and stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse starting with Hanukkah.
The theme of a recent program we hosted in Atlanta was “Seeing the light of hope, healing, and empowerment through the lens of Hanukah.” On Hanukkah, we light the eight candles of the Menorah. The 9th candle is the Shamash, – a helper candle used to light the other candles. We know Hanukah is the festival of lights, and the opposite of light is darkness. For thousands of years, Jewish people have evolved through periods of light and darkness. We can all relate to what this may feel like. Today, we hope that through education, dialogue, and storytelling, along with the incredible power of our community, we continue to see the miracles of light and hope.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five Americans, 18 and older, experienced a mental illness in 2018. One in five Americans older than 12 used an illicit drug, which includes misusing prescription opioids.
For a long time, the Jewish community avoided talking about issues related to mental health. Even today, a stigma remains that prevents individuals from speaking out and seeking – or offering – help. The fact is, Jewish individuals are as likely as anyone else to be affected by mental illness and/or addiction because it doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, education, or socioeconomic status.
If the current population of the U.S. is 330 million people, and Jews make up around two percent or 6.6 million individuals, by extrapolating this data and knowing that Jews track the general population, then there are about 1.25 million Jewish people experiencing a mental illness. This number includes an estimated 400,000 alcoholics, 40,000 opioid addicts,160,000 persons addicted to other substances, and approximately 100,000 Jewish gambling addicts. Net-net, the Jewish community, suffers too.
It used to be “taboo” to talk about cancer, but through education, along with open and honest conversations, cancer has become de-stigmatized. The more we talk about mental health and substance abuse conditions, the more normalized it becomes.
Our family, friends, and community need one another-we might need support. Starting the conversation is the first step. Stigma is 100% curable – compassion, empathy, and understanding are the solution. Your voice and kindness can spread the cure. It takes a community…and you are our community. Let’s commit to being each other’s “Shamash” and Quiet the Silence!
As we celebrate the joyous holiday of Hanukkah and the festival of lights, let’s also take a moment to remember those who we have loved and lost. Let’s pray for the healing of the spirit, the soul, the mind, and the body for those who struggle and those who stand alongside them.
You matter, your community cares, and they are your “Shamash.” I wish you and your family a beautiful end to the 2019 year and a Hanukkah season full of light and joy.
Co-Founder and President
The Blue Dove Foundation