This article first appeared in the Jewish News on 3rd May 2019.
JLC Director of Policy & Public Affairs Claudia Mendoza writes:
Public attitudes and awareness towards mental health have changed significantly over the years. This is in no small part due to the fact that there has been a sea change in the way mental health is addressed. From government to charities to celebrities drawing attention to the issue, the taboo is slowly being eroded. This is certainly true in our own community, where more people are coming forward to talk about their own experiences.
Indeed, the Community Wellbeing Task Force – a Jewish Leadership Council led initiative – was set up to address the increasing mental health challenges facing Jewish children and young people today. The Community Wellbeing Project is a three-year pilot scheme stemming from the advice of an expert panel and commissioned research, which identified that a positive approach to mental health and wellbeing requires an educated partnership between school staff, parents/carers and students. Wellbeing Practitioners have been recruited in five pilot schools in London and Manchester to build on existing programmes, run new evidence-based initiatives and work together to share best practices. The Wellbeing Practitioner will support the school in the development and delivery of its whole school approach to emotional wellbeing.
Having a mental health condition increases your chances of being lonely but loneliness – which we tend to associate with older people – can affect anyone. Loneliness does not discriminate when it comes to age or background and even if you are surrounded by colleagues, friends and family, you can still be affected by loneliness. The effects can be as detrimental on a person’s health as that of many physical health conditions.
The wonderful thing about being part of a community is the sense of belonging and structure it provides. Indeed, Judaism as a religion offers much needed order in an increasingly chaotic world. There are practices around every life event helping us to navigate our way from cradle to grave and the laws around Shabbat provide tranquillity after a working week.
At the end of last year, the Prime Minister launched the government’s loneliness strategy which confirmed that all GPs in England will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services by 2023. This is known as ‘social prescribing’ and will allow GPs to direct patients to community workers offering tailored support to help people improve their health and wellbeing, instead of defaulting to medicine.
The Jewish community has much to offer when it comes to social prescribing. Of our 35 members, many have programmes aimed at tackling loneliness. This week the JLC facilitated a meeting between Jewish Care, JAMI and Mims Davies MP in her capacity as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society. In this role, she has responsibility for the cross-government work on loneliness and we were able to share some of Jewish Care and JAMI’s work as well as some of the work done by our other member organisations.
The Apples and Honey nursery based at Nightingale House for example, is the UK’s first nursery to be based at a care home, allowing older people to take part in activities with children such as baking and singing. The benefits of intergenerational activities go far beyond alleviating loneliness but on this issue, it has proven a huge success.
As with all our engagement with government, we want to be seen as a community who can offer best practice and innovation on issues affecting society at large. The Jewish community faces some unique challenges but most of the challenges we face are faced by many outside the community. Being part of a community allows us to problem solve together but we want to make sure that the things which work for us can work for others too and we hope that the Minister took away some ideas.