Mental health and the Jewish community

This issue of Newsweek has a very powerful article on the rise of suicide in industrial and post-industrial societies and summarizes the latest thinking from experts who have studied suicide.

It is not possible to see the graphic conveying the interrelationship of the three biggest risk factors leading to suicide and not think about:

(1) how common each of these risk factors are, and

(2) the roles that religious communities can play in mitigating these factors.

suicide graphic

Source: Kimberly A. Van Orden et al., “The Interpersonal Theory of Suicide,” Psychol Rev. 117(2) (2010): 575

Religious communities and religious practice have the POTENTIAL to be particularly impactful on feelings of “Thwarted Belongingness” and “Perceived Burdensomeness”. The data appear to bear this out; communities warmly bonded together with ties of faith have lower suicide rates.

The authors point out that the nature of online interactions can exacerbate these factors as the quantity and quality of face-to-face interactions decline and are replaced by the demands of electronic communication. This point underscores the value of being shomer Shabbat (if for no other reason!).

The third factor, “Capability for Suicide” is described as something that develops over time, which may explain the distinct rise in suicide rates in the middle-aged population (45-64 year olds). Interestingly, here the data are very clear that this capability trends with exposure to indirect violence . To quote the article:

““The strength of the association between media violence and aggressive behavior,” the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded in 2009, “is greater than the association between calcium intake and bone mass, lead ingestion and lower IQ, and condom nonuse and sexually acquired HIV infection, and is nearly as strong as the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.”

I was pretty shocked reading this as I did not realize that the data supporting these correlations were so concrete.

I recently learned of an organization that is addressing issues of suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.

Elijah’s journey, named for the prophet Elijah who at one point in his journey was so burnt out he wished for an end to his own life, is a young organization (founded in 2009) and is doing some terrific education and outreach in the Jewish community. As far as I am aware it is the only Jewish organization that is tackling these difficult issues explicitly (please correct me if this impression is incorrect).

It is important for us to remember that we will not be aware of those of us who are the most vulnerable amongst us at any single moment and there is undoubtedly a major stumbling block against asking for “help” if not an outright stigma.

BUT – everything we do to reach out and build genuine direct connections between people will strengthen our community overall and protect individuals from falling into the mid-point of the Venn diagram. Even a simple smile and a considerate question that you stick around long enough to hear the answer to can make a difference.

Can you move outside your comfort zone and invite somebody new to your dinner table?

If you have experience can you share your hard-gotten wisdom and help guide another person who is busy reinventing the wheel?

We are all capable of these actions and often this is the “help” that is most needed.



2 thoughts on “Mental health and the Jewish community

  1. like the circles I have had three friends commit suicide, two I understand sorta but the third made no sense he showed no signs of being unhappy he had friends galore was involved in activities he loved, he was only 35,

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