We practice mental health in a specific way on the first Sunday of every month at Central Reform Congregation, with my wife, Rabbi Susan Talve, and myself presiding. We practice mental health this way for a variety of good reasons:
- As a response to a felt need in our community
- To act like a community that cares for one another
- To secure mental health in the center of a community agenda
- To help those in need of our skills.
Our skills are good – getting better all the time – because we exercise them. Our first skill is listening.
We started by listening to the needs of individuals, some who came to us and asked, some who do not advocate well for themselves so we advocate for them. One of our slogans heard around our tables: Let no one go dark on our watch.
We practice community. Another one of our teachings: We do not practice aloneness. Isolation is one of the biggest obstacles we work against. Mental health crises are often isolating, so we have created a community of listening, caring and similarly experienced souls. Many of us have been there.
And “there” can be a dangerous place, and always a serious place. At our most recent meeting, three participants mentioned that they are survivors of suicide. They are a great resource because they know what it feels like to be on the edge and to come away to tell the story.
We think we’ve developed a good model, and we want to share it. Several times a year we create a program for the community, to pull back the curtain on our process.
We do not have certainty, but we do have a program. We have experience. We have heart for the stranger because we are all strangers, not just then but always.
We call our effort No Shanda, another one of our sayings: We are raising the curtain of shanda that hides our shame. Shanda means shame. There is none.
We intend to penetrate the curtain of shame that conceals our problems. We start with talk, then more talk. We also practice confidentiality because we know we are still beginning and the stigma is durable.
Everyone is welcome to our community meeting, to see our practice, to register your requests, to join our efforts, to act like a community. Another one of our sayings: There is no one outside who cannot be brought within.
Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Central Reform Congregation and has been involved with a variety of mental health initiatives in the Jewish community, including the regular ‘Shanda: There Is None’ series.