Thursday, 9 November 2017

Mental Health

Isaac never recovers from the trauma of the Akedah. If a label of ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ feels anachronistic, maybe that’s a reflection of our unwillingness to view the ancient heroes of our faith as archetypes of the very same challenges we face as humans today.

The Bible is replete with examples of mental health; King Saul displays symptoms of depression, mania, paranoia, anxiety ...

Meanwhile, in the Talmud, come tales of senile dementia; one aged mother who, following the death of her husband, wants to marry her son. Another marches into the City Council, where her son is Mayor, and proceeds to bash him over the head with a slipper.

Judaism offers a remarkable counter-balance to the stresses and strains of contemporary existence - the Sabbath - and the importance of soulful rest has never been more important. But mental health is tragically often a burden beyond the reaches of even the most efficacious bowl of chicken soup.

We don’t make enough space in our souls and in our community, to acknowledge the ways mental health can devastate a life. Indeed, perhaps precisely because mental illness is harder to see than many physical illnesses and injuries, the impact of mental ill-health on the family and social structures surrounding an ill person can be even more painfully felt.

I was deeply moved, this week, to receive the latest edition of ‘Head Room’ - a listing of courses, seminars and events run by Jami, the ‘mental health service for our Community.’ It’s a remarkable document containing offerings for the young and the old, for patients, and those who love them, for anxiety, stress, vulnerability, self-harm, eating disorders, managing loss and on the list goes. In particular, many of the listings share a concern to provide a safe space for sharing stories, listening and finding among other human beings, a humanity when faced with these deeply human sufferings. I would hope we, at New London, and I - not that I’m a trained medical professional - can offer some of that humanity and safety for all those in our community so affected.

There are a few copies of the Jami booklet in the Shul foyer, others - and much else - are available at

As ever, I welcome any and all responses,

Shabbat shalom

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