Progressively Speaking: Looking after mental health begins at birth

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Progressively Speaking: Looking after mental health begins at birth

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith takes a topical issues and offers a Reform response

The charity said that 26 percent of new referrals since 7 October had referenced the war and/or rising antisemitism
The charity said that 26 percent of new referrals since 7 October had referenced the war and/or rising antisemitism

With the advent of Children’s Mental Health Week, we are reminded to take a moment and think about the mental well-being of our younger generation.

From the moment our children are born, we take dedicated care of their physical health. We feed them well, wrap them up warm, shield them from the sun, steer them away from danger, encourage them to seek expert medical help when their physical health is challenged and, crucially, teach them to take care of these things for themselves and their future generations. 

As it says in Deuteronomy 4:9 shmor nafshecha me’od, take great care of yourself, which Maimonides interprets as the duty to keep yourself away from danger and to find healing (Laws concerning murder and preservation of life 11:4). 

When we pray for healing, we pray for refuat hanefesh and refuat haguf, the healing of the soul and the healing of the body. 

Mental health is just as worthy of care as physical health. Just like physical health, it is a lifelong duty to keep it as good as possible. Just as for physical health, it is a community mission to help support each other’s mental health. Bikkur cholim, the Jewish duty to attend to the sick, is also for the broken spirit.  

 At the kindergarten of a community I served, they instituted a wonderful programme called Bounce Back, brought to the UK by Apples and Honey Kindergarten head Cindy Summer, which aimed to help give our youngest children the resources to deal with anxiety and other troubles to their mental well-being. 

Our youth movements now aim to train their madrichim for mental health first aid, supported by Jami, and at least one, RSY-Netzer, employs a mental health expert to help. 

The pressures of life, our own natures, traumatic experiences and so much else can challenge our mental health at any point in our lives. 

Our Jewish community, alongside home and school, can nurture our mental health with supportive and trained rabbis, youth leaders and teachers. 

As with this year’s theme of Children’s Mental Health Week – to express yourself – we can learn to open up and see each other for the full people we are, with our spiritual, mental and physical selves all part of the package.  

  •  Mark Goldsmith is Senior Rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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