The school setting is also preferable to the office setting in that it reduces the stigma of “mental illness.” The school is neutral ground, a place for learning not just the three R’s but equally important, how to live life well, how to manage stress, moods, anger and relationships. This kind of education is a vaccine, an inoculation against the development of psychopathology and encourages kids and parents to identify more serious problems earlier and seek professional help more readily.
This must become a required curriculum for colleges, yeshivas and seminaries as well since the ages of 18 to 25 is a critical time for the first break of major mental illnesses, identity formation and for laying the foundation for future healthy marital relationships. The workplace must also incorporate stress management programs to improve communication and manage conflict before things escalate into unproductive and wasteful power plays, and the misuse of time and funds.
Finally, we all need to drop the mask of “normal.” Being an Orthodox Jew in the modern world is normally very challenging – beautiful, meaningful – but challenging. We have 613 mitzvos, larger families, a shrinking economy, rising educational costs, increasing expectations within an ever more open and permissive society which often clashes with traditional values. It ain’t easy! It has become “abnormal” or not the norm to feel good most of the time. If this is you, congratulations, you are in an evanescent minority.
Please ask your neighbor, your co-worker, your student, your fellow shul member, your spouse or your child, “Are you feeling okay? If you aren’t, please answer honestly, ‘Baruch Hashem, not really.’” We need to help each other in our New-Town. One kind word or even just listening for a few minutes can literally save a life. One more criticism, harsh word or act can be the Makeh B’patash or last straw that could set someone off and they will take their own life or the lives of those around them. Let us come together to learn and heal from this tragedy in whatever way we can.