By Risa Sugarman
(Kveller via JTA) Traditionally, we say the prayer, Mi Sheberach, for those who are ill and those recovering from illness/accident. For example, I added my friend’s daughter’s name to the list to be recited at my synagogue following a terrible accident in which parts of her body were burned.
As the Mi Sheberach was recited this past Shabbat at my synagogue, I had an epiphany. I wondered aloud to my husband, What about those with mental illness? Do we ever think of adding their names in hopes of recovery and wellness?
Anyone who has ever had any diagnosis of mental illness knows that it can be a horrendous and difficult road to travel, and prayers of any kind would be appreciated. In synagogue, as the names were recited, one by one, I wondered to myself if any of those mentioned were struggling with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. A mental illness is an illness. Complications from diabetes must be treated appropriately, and prayers can be part of the treatment plan. Similarly, complications from bipolar disorder must be treated appropriately, and prayers can also play a role in the treatment plan.
As logical as this seems to someone like me who lives with depression, unfortunately, society as a whole has not yet reached that level of understanding. I like to think that the Jewish community is more open to accepting people for who they are due to what our earlier generations endured. But we still could and should do better.
My synagogue greatly supported me over the past two years when I suffered from severe depression. Individual women from the synagogue reached out to me, in response to my writing about my experience. I not only made some wonderful new friends, but I added to my support and logistics team. I gained friends who checked on me, and these friends would also drive me to my ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatments. They availed themselves to me, which not only helped me but my family as well. Now, it was not as if an announcement was made in synagogue alerting everyone that I, personally, was ill, but these women knew we shared a connection to our synagogue, and took it from there. I am very lucky.
There is part of the Mi Sheberach prayer that asks God to restore, heal, strengthen, and enliven the individual who is suffering. Someone who is suffering from severe depression definitely needs to be restored, healed, strengthened, and enlivened. The individual may not know that she needs this due to her impaired cognition, but her community can surround her with these words in order to support the restoration of her cognition, the healing of her sadness, and wish her increased strength and a reason to wake up in the morning. This is what we need. This is what I need. We should not be feared due to our illnesses. Someone with schizophrenia not only deserves this, but as a human being, it is his/her right.
Agreed? Let’s take what is scary, “invisible,” and not easily understood, and turn it all around.
I challenge synagogues, groups, and individuals to include those with mental illness in the list of names when reciting the Mi Sheberach prayer. Make the invitation clear in synagogue announcements and bulletins. Give those and their families who may feel shame and fear the permission to reach out and ask for the prayers they need. Let’s provide each and every member of our communities the same opportunity to heal.
Risa Sugarman has an MSW from Fordham University and a B.A. from Columbia University. She has written for the Huffington Post, Psych Central, Keshet and Stigma Fighters; she blogs at sillyillymama.blogspot.com.)
Risa and Rabbi Jim Rosen will discuss “Renewal of Spirit: Jewish Perspectives on Mental Health on Shabbat, May 14, 11 a.m. (following services), at Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Ave., West Hartford. For more information: bethelwesthartford.org / (860) 233-9696.
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