By Leora Greene
In April 2015, when I was 15 years old, I came home from getting my braces off to learn that my grandfather had taken his own life after fighting with anxiety and depression for many years. My family and I felt a strange mix of emotions all at once: anger, sadness, and a looming feeling of isolation made all of us want to know why this had happened. I was reminded of this recently when my mom mentioned to me that while searching for comfort within Jewish texts, she found nothing that helped survivors of suicide loss deal with their grieving.
My family and I found the lack of texts on the matter disconcerting, but luckily we had each other to look to for support and comfort. I’m glad my parents were there to teach me that it’s important we acknowledge and support those in our community who are suffering from mental illness and survivors of suicide loss. We see the news address it when a celebrity dies by suicide, or even in pop culture with shows like 13 Reasons Why. Meanwhile, we often blind ourselves to the impact mental health issues have on the many people with whom we interact daily, and how popular portrayal of their struggle dramatizes and glorifies their pain.
I didn’t wake up to suicide being an intersectional issue until after it affected me personally. As time went on following my grandpa’s death, my family and I learned not only to spread awareness to those around us, but to address the multitude of ways mental illness and suicide can affect people’s lives. Recent revelations, however, require that we do more. To really understand how mental health impacts people, we must recognize that it is intersectional, meaning many other issues about which we are so passionate are interlapping currents within a broader issue.
As progressives, our main focuses often include gun violence prevention, economic justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and more. It’s known that around 33,000 deaths occur each year due to gun violence. What is less known, however, is that roughly 2/3 of those deaths are a result of suicide. In 2017 alone, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recorded 47,173 suicides.
Those experiencing economic injustice face similar challenges. It is far more difficult to seek psychiatric treatment and help for anxiety, depression, and other disorders if you cannot afford mental health services or live in an area with little to no access to these programs. Regarding LGBTQ youth, the CDC reported they are 3 times more likely to seriously contemplate suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, and 5 times more likely to attempt.
While the factors in each case vary, it is essential to recognize that there are so many links between mental health and other issues that we care about so deeply. After coping with the death of my grandpa, I also understood that mental health is a Jewish issue. It is my hope that in this New Year, mental health awareness and suicide prevention are issues that we, as forward-minded Jews, look to act on in order to save lives.
When we say the Mi Sheibeirach during Shabbat services, we pray for those who are hurting to receive refuah shleima, meaning “a renewal of body, a renewal of spirit.” If everyone in our community can commit to paying closer attention to reducing the stigma that surrounds mental illness and suicide, we can help grant that same compassion to many of those in our communities who are struggling in silence.
Leora Greene is a freshman psychology major at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and a part of the JCJ’s Campus Activism Fellowship.