Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Suicides can be preventable. When communities adopt a proactive approach to wellness it can make a huge difference. Prevention is way less scary than what can happen when a community avoids dealing with mental illness and suicide prevention. Every community can benefit from awareness and education promoting understanding unconditional acceptance and mental health strengthening.
Why is unconditional acceptance important? Doesn't that encourage people to not care about ritual practice and then eventually rebel?
כָּל אַהֲבָה שֶׁהִיא תְלוּיָה בְדָבָר, בָּטֵל דָּבָר, בְּטֵלָה אַהֲבָה. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ תְּלוּיָה בְדָבָר, אֵינָהּ בְּטֵלָה לְעוֹלָם.
“A love that is dependent on something when the thing ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent on anything is eternal”.
(Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers, 5:16)
When people feel that love or acceptance is conditional, and they don't have a solid sense of belonging, they will either do everything in their power to keep up a facade so they don't lose whatever conditional acceptance they have or they leave the community altogether.
Faith based communities are challenged with this dilemma all the time.
High standards can become so important that we lose sight of humanity behind the practice. Since we are all different from each other, religion cannot be felt or practiced the same way for anyone. We each find meaning and purpose in different places and practices and in the same way, we are each challenged differently and find certain practices difficult that might be a breeze for others.
We are all blessed with different gifts as well as difficulties, so any growth attempts must be differentiated. We can't compare what one person needs to the next - as "What is medicine for some can be poison for others."
Any religion in which black and white thinking and perfectionism is encouraged, has likely had the transmission of their laws and rituals perverted somewhere along the lines. You can be goal oriented and growth minded without black and white thinking and perfectionism!
Obviously, we are not all created the same, but anyone who belongs to a faith based community believes that we were all created by G-d and in G-d's image. Therefore all lives are valuable and worthy. And if that's the case, who are we to judge or reject another person who was also created in G-d's image?
When we don’t fit into the box that is expected of us, it is unfair to be put in situation to have to either fake it till we make it (which can really cause a lot of damage) or be looked at as a rebel. Mental illnesses and certainly suicidality are commonly preceded by feelings of being misunderstood, rejected, judged, ostracized and excluded (among other factors). These feelings can easily lead to more severe feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Unconditional acceptance and validation is NOT the same as an endorsement or encouragement of "less than" behaviors. It's the recognition that we ALL have "less than" behaviors and there is no reason to judge or push away anyone for "sinning" differently. Everyone deserves a sense of safety and belonging.
Here are some ways that YOU can be a part of shifting the culture in your own community:
Encourage your family and local community to learn more about proactive strategies for overall health and well-being. Some ideas include:
Start a book club (we have lots of great book recommendations)
Organize guest speakers and workshops (we have some great recommendations for those too)
Volunteer to be a “big sister” or “big brother” in your community if you know there are youth at risk or people alone. (make sure to get some proper training for this so you are prepared and able to recognize better what is beyond your ability to help)
Regularly visit with or check in on people in your community that you know are alone or particularly vulnerable. Not because you feel bad for them but because you genuinely care about their well being and want to support them in any way you can. Sympathy will not be well received. Empathy, acceptance and understanding will.
Share your plans with your community leaders and ask them to partner with you.
Create a database of local resources
Identify local organizations that have really good support resources (or organizations that can help online) and ask your synagogue, church, mosque or community centre to share this information on their website. It’s always helpful to build a practical and local database rather than a more global one. You can also identify if there are any doctors or mental health professionals in the community that would feel comfortable being listed as an emergency resource.
Organize valuable training sessions in your community
Encourage your local community and schools to run SafeTalk, Peervention and Mental Health First Aid courses.