With last year in the rearview mirror, and (we hope) a brighter new year on the horizon, we can see the impact of mental health on our lives more and more. As the new year begins, let us reaffirm our commitment to mental health and wellness for both ourselves and our communities.
A conversation on mental health can bring forth powerful connections with the potential to save someone’s life. To help start people talking, we created these resources for individuals to reflect upon and improve their own mental health as well as to contribute to the mental wellness of the entire Jewish community as we look forward to a sweet new year.
Rosh Hashanah is a powerful and transformative holiday, from the inspirational and poetic prayers we recite to the powerful and incisive blast of the shofar. This experience, however, cannot be fully embraced in a safe and healthy way without preparation, and for that, we have the month of Elul preceding the High Holidays. We encourage you to take this month to fully embrace and engage with your past with courage. It is only by building better selves that we can build a better world.
Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, can be a challenging subject for a lot of people. For some, it is a chance to make resolutions, accept the past, and commit to a better future. But for those struggling with mental illness, this process of self-criticism and introspection can be devastating to their mental health. Therefore, we all must do our best to cultivate self-acceptance and, above all, self-forgiveness, in a healthy and collected manner.
The High Holidays are the holiest days of the Jewish calendar and consist of the Days of Awe, a ten-day period of reflection and repentance that begins on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and ends on Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” Yet what is intended to be a period of transformation can be easily corrupted by uncontrolled self criticism, leading to destructive consequences on the practitioner's mental health. Thankfully, Judaism creates a foundation we can use as a springboard to take care of our mental well-being while undergoing this reflection. We invite you to explore these steps, executing them in any order you think best matches your personal needs and aspirations for the holiday season.
Among the myriad of traditions and prayers experienced on Yom Kippur, two stand out: fasting and repentance. For most adults, these are uncomfortable but benign practices whose pain is quickly forgotten when the fast is over. Unfortunately, the experience of fasting can be much more challenging for someone struggling with disordered eating. The rhythm of the holiday, with its large meals before and after the period of fasting, can be at best extremely stressful to someone in treatment for an eating disorder. At worst, it can be dangerous — both physically and emotionally. A person in recovery will often be assigned a structured meal plan of set portions at set times in an effort to establish a pattern of healthy eating. This schedule is crucial to their recovery, and disrupting this pattern at sensitive stages of recovery can be extremely harmful to the recovery process. Putting the brain and body into a state of deprivation can also be detrimental to the biology and chemistry of the brain.