It’s time for Jewish student associations to get serious about mental health issues on campus
Today, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day which was created in 1992 with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.
Mental health issues are a growing concern on college and university campuses across the world and campus health providers and administrators have reported seeing sharp increases in student demand for counseling services. Many report seeing students with more severe and complex mental health problems compared even to a decade ago. In the US, college health insurers have also reported spikes in claims for prescription psychiatric drugs, including anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. To some degree, these findings are not surprising given that late adolescence is the time when a number of psychiatric disorders first emerge.
Campuses are faced with a concerning number of students who struggle to cope with academic demands, social isolation, a new environment, and pressure to succeed, all of which can undermine students’ ability to enjoy their college experience and successfully complete their studies.
Mental health has been a taboo topic in many Jewish communities for many years and this has resulted in an unfortunate lack of awareness to these issues within the Jewish student community. I believe that it is time for the Jewish student movement to start taking mental health seriously so that we can get rid of the stigmas and help those Jewish students suffering to find and access the help they need.
In February 2016, the Union of Jewish students of the UK & Ireland (UJS), launched their “Reclaim Campaign” to raise awareness for mental health issues by placing “student experience and testimony at the centre of efforts to raise awareness” and “create a new platform for talking about mental health” while acting as a “signpost the organisations who can offer the right kind of help.”
It’s easy sometimes to assume that the only challenges facing Jewish students are BDS and antisemitism but really, there are many threats to Jewish students that they share with all other students and it is the responsibility of Jewish student unions to tackle these as well. I hope that individual Jewish students together with Jewish student associations around the world will join me in taking up this call. I hope Jewish student unions will follow the example of UJS and also pass resolutions on this issue at their conferences this year. I will also personally commit to working with Jewish students invested in this work to develop policy to be proposed at the General Assembly of WUJS in January.