May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a tradition that started in 1949. Seventy years later, we’re finally reaching a place where mental health is receiving the attention it deserves. It took a pandemic to get us there. For a really long time, nobody wanted to talk about it. Shame and stigma around mental illness, which includes addictions of all kinds, prevented people from addressing the problem and seeking help when they needed it.
The Blue Dove Foundation is working to change that.
Some background first: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines mental health as our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It helps determine how we handle stress, how we relate to others and the kinds of choices we make. It’s important to understand poor mental health is not the same thing as mental illness. Someone experiencing poor mental health might not be diagnosed with a mental illness. And someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness might experience periods of physical, mental and social well-being.
When we started on this journey in March 2018, we knew mental illness and addiction — substance abuse as well as other addictive behaviors — were growing problems across the country and around the world. We were aware the problems existed in the Jewish community, even though very few people wanted to admit it or even talk about it. Back then, one in five Americans was suffering from a mental illness.
We thought things were bad then, but we had no idea what was coming. Nobody was prepared for a pandemic or the number of people who would die from COVID-19. Nor was anyone prepared for COVID’s impact on mental health. The pandemic brought the issue to the forefront, as more and more people started to struggle with depression and anxiety during months of isolation, often turning to alcohol and substances as a way to feel better. The New York Times recently reported a 25 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths in the first year of the pandemic.
By January 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 41 percent of American adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. For adults aged 18-24, the figure was 56 percent. And while fewer people overall are dying by suicide, recent years have seen an increase in deaths by suicide and suicide attempts by adolescents and young adults.
If there’s a bright side, it’s that more people are talking about mental health and substance abuse. They’re putting the shame and stigma around these issues aside and are seeking help when they need it. And that is what the Blue Dove Foundation is all about.
Our mission is to educate, equip and ignite our Jewish community with tools to understand, support, and overcome the challenges presented by mental illness and substance abuse. Since our beginning, we have come a long way. We have reached a large number of people and organizations and have come to be seen as a top go-to Jewish mental health resource. We have developed innovative programs for educators, synagogues, and other groups.
Most importantly, the community recognizes there is a problem. Everyone is looking to do something about it, and they’re looking to us for help. We are not the only organization doing this important work; we’re proud to be a part of important collaborations that are helping to elevate the conversation and quiet the silence around mental illness and substance abuse in the Jewish community and beyond.
Visit our website to learn more about our offerings, including workshops, programs, and education resource activities. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay a part of the Jewish mental health conversation. Our special mental health awareness month programming is available here.
Make the most of Mental Health Awareness Month with the Blue Dove Foundation’s official MHAM workbook, a week-by-week guide to help readers focus on their mental health this month. Each week comes with its own lesson about Judaism and mental health, an activity related to that lesson, and a journal page dedicated to personal reflections on the activity.
Gabby Spatt is the Founding Executive Director of the Blue Dove Foundation.