April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Our community knows how to get together when facing a tragedy. It knows how to raise funds and buy equipment for soldiers or hospitals. We know how to bake lots of challah, and how to bring meals to people who are ill. Make a hospital visit? Countless volunteers are eager to sign up. On one hand, we raise money, sometimes running marathons and going the extra mile to help cancer patients and their families. And we do it with conviction and urgency.

That is what community is for, and we should be proud of the way our Jewish community looks out for one another. Still, there is a blind spot that needs focus. With all of our sincerely good intentions we somehow don’t see a searing problem in plain view.

That blind spot is called mental illness.

People who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses say it would be so much easier if they had a virus or an infection, something that a quick dosage of antibiotics or regular medical check-ups could cure or control.

Mental illness often travels hand in hand with stigma. Fighting off a disease even as brutal as cancer appropriately is less likely to come with a stigma. Why should it? But admitting to anyone other than your family, closest friends and therapists that you are bipolar or depressed or anxious or constantly sad is difficult.

Adults with mental illnesses often skate on a thin layer of appropriate ever-changing medications, dosages, therapies and other attempts just to feel happy, safe and secure.

And yes, children can suffer from mental illnesses as well. But for kids it’s different, because as parents we want to wrap them in a safe, protective cocoon. We want them to never feel pain, to never be sad, to never be lacking friendships, to never feel lonely, hopeless or helpless.

When an adult or a child suffers from depression, they go to a dark, lonely place that sometimes can bring them to a standstill. They are stuck. Sometimes they can climb out of it, but that isn’t always so. Imagine not being able to speak to even those you hold dear. Combine that feeling with an environment where everyone besides you looks and acts happy. They post funny photographs of toes sticking out of the sand at the beach, and are constantly getting “likes” on Facebook.

So this brings us to the extreme edge of depression’s darkness, where a person cannot stand to awaken in the morning and even face another day. Try describing that to your friends and relatives. The dictionary defines suicide as the “voluntary act of killing oneself.” Those who don’t get it sometimes call suicide a “cowardly or a selfish” act. But those who suffer in silence and act impulsively and those who have sought help and just cannot bear the burden or pain any longer are hardly selfish and are hardly cowards. When you get to a place where you cannot breathe, and when you get to a place that is so isolating and painful, you just want the pain to stop.

What is the answer?

What can we do to help prevent future tragedies?

How can we teach our children that they are not alone?

There is hope. The article accompanying this column lists some of the resources available to help those suffering silently.

We as a community are so good at helping.

The pain of depression is too great and too real to keep shrouded in the darkness.

Let’s start by being there for those who are suffering. Someone once said that 98 percent of helping is just “showing up and validating” another person.

That would be a good start.

By Banji Latkin Ganchrow

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