Today, teens and young people are struggling. More than 3 million adolescents, representing over 13% of the population, have experienced a major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The numbers are equally high for adolescents experiencing eating disorders, substance abuse and a variety of other mental health challenges. Attempted and completed suicide rates continue to rise. Jewish teens are not immune. As we learn in the Talmud, “He who has saved one life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.” This is why Boston, along with several other communities, is making adolescent wellness a priority, and I am thrilled to be part of this initiative.
I was introduced to Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) a few years ago and became a certified trainer 18 months ago. YMHFA, which was first developed in Australia, teaches participants to better understand typical adolescent development, spot signs and symptoms of mental health challenges, and respond to a youth experiencing a crisis. Similar to certified medical first aid/CPR responders, adults trained in youth mental health first aid are equipped to give assistance in a crisis until appropriate professional help is received.
After becoming certified, as a Jewish educator and licensed social worker, I found myself exploring ways to make the course more relevant to our Jewish community. Last year, I partnered with The Jewish Education Project in New York and Jewish Teen Engagement and Education Funder Collaborative, a group made up of representatives from 10 communities who have received funding from the Jim Joseph Foundation to engage teens in meaningful ways, to explore ways to infuse the course with Jewish wisdom. Through that work, The Jewish Education Project created a companion guide for YMHFA facilitators, and the Funder Collaborative created a wellness resource guide highlighting Jewish texts, sources and wisdom for educators to draw on in their work.
In September, I traveled with representatives from the 10 communities to Nashville to participate in a three-day “train-the-trainer” program led by the National Council of Behavioral Health and supplemented by the work we did last year.
After the training, everyone returned to their home communities energized, dedicated and prepared to work closely with their local teen initiatives to offer YMHFA trainings for a variety of audiences. In addition, I have the privilege of facilitating that group, which has become a community of practice and will gather virtually to learn with and support each other as we offer this course and as we continue to identify other opportunities for helping the teens in our communities.
We are so fortunate to be in a community that cares about our young people and understands that one of the most effective ways of helping our young people is to ensure that our professionals are equipped with the tools necessary to help our teens thrive. Last week, in collaboration with Gateways, 30 educators from day schools, synagogues and local community organizations became certified. As we look toward 2020, and as the world around our teens becomes possibly even more scary and unpredictable, we are committed to offering more opportunities for certification so that the Jewish community can do our part in providing our teens with the support they need to thrive.
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