By Liza Moskowitz, MHWOW Program Manager

One of my favorite things about Moishe House is how you are able to combine secular interests, events, and concepts to Jewish practice. Game of Thrones Shabbat? Absolutely. The Bader Seder? Check it out from last month’s MHWOW newsletter. Now, I am excited to team up my Moishe House involvement with Mental Health Awareness Month.

What is Mental Health Awareness Month’s history? Mental health has taken a front seat in national conversations recently as 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental illness, but Mental Health Awareness Month has been recognized since its founding in 1949 by Mental Health America (then known as the National Association for Mental Health). This month’s purpose is to raise awareness, educate the public about mental illness, and reduce the stigma around mental health.

Moishe House programming has focused on mental health in the past with mindfulness retreats, self-care nights, and speakers. I went to a program in January 2016 at the Moishe House Chicago – Lakeview house with a licensed social worker to discuss happiness and finding it in our lives.

I loved going to programs at the Lakeview house, and it really isn’t surprising that there is a soccer game on in the background while we were eating.

I was really excited to learn that one of Moishe House’s 2019 Tikkun Olam pillars is Mental and Physical Health & Wellness. These pillars were voted on by residents and hosts at each leadership conference at the end of 2018 to be reflective of the broader Moishe House community’s interests and rooted in Jewish thought. We are striving for each Moishe House and 100 MHWOW hosts to participate in at least 1 Tikkun Olam pillar this year. Check out how Moishe House communities have already created this year on Mental and Physical Health & Wellness:

Moishe House Montreal hosted “Long Distance: A Storytelling Evening” with The Musée du Montréal juif – Museum of Jewish Montreal and Next Dor at Temple. They discussed community stories on the topic of “distance,” interpreted broadly as physical separations or obstacles, mental or emotional challenges, or metaphorical distances through time, transformations, or failures and successes.

Ellie Rudee, MHWOW Host in Israel, gathered her peers for a discussion called “Aliyah: Mental Health Challenges and Resources.” Ellie hired a licensed social worker to speak to a group of olim (immigrants to Israel) about mental health challenges while living abroad – how to help themselves and others. This program was in honor and memory of her college friend Michael Cohen, a Moishe House alum who struggled with mental health challenges while living abroad and took his own life one year ago.

Moishe House NYC – Harlem welcomed their community for a “Self-Care Night” to put New Years resolutions into practice with a night of meditation, journaling, or coloring. The residents wanted their community to leave the winter blues behind.  

I spoke to Shayna Sigman, a Moishe House Portland alumna and MHWOW host, for her thoughts on how to incorporate positive mental health practices into any type of program. Shayna received her Masters of Social Work from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and is the Inclusion Coordinator for B’nai B’rith Camp in Oregon. She suggested these 3 easy steps for a successful program:

    1. Be aware of sensory influences. A large program with a large group of people talking and music playing can be loud and overwhelming. Think about dividing up your programming space for a louder environment and a space for quieter interactions or conversations.  
    2. Provide a game plan and flow of your program. Establishing what’s coming up during the program can help your guests prepare. This can either be a written schedule in your invitation or posted upon arrival. You could also verbally share when you welcome everyone to your program.
    3. Be who you are (and that might not be a trained professional). If you are hosting a program about mental health, make sure you share that this is an important topic to you but you are not a trained professional. You could use language such as “We are giving suggestions. Please contact a mental health professional if you are seeking mental health support.”

Looking for more training? Check out Mental Health First Aid. With in-person courses being offered in many cities, Mental Health First Aid is a great option to explore this topic more in depth.

More Resources:

  • The Moishe House Tikkun Olam webpage has more program spotlights and sample conversation guides on healthy relationships and suicide prevention.
  • Download One Table’s Mental Health Awareness Shabbat Guide, Mi Sheberach Shabbat, to use as a Shabbat conversation starter. You can use MHWOW funding for printing costs!
  • Read this blog post from the Schusterman Foundation’s blog discussing how to create open and inclusive spaces for people living with mental illness.
  • Learn more about mental health advocacy and activism from the Religious Action Center.
  • Work through Terry Wunder’s self care workbook. Exercises on personal ecology, your urgency index, and your self-care first aid kit will help you chill out.