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Hillel launches initiative to support mental health on campus

WASHINGTON– The Jewish student organization Hillel International announced this week the launch of HillelWell, as part of the Hillel U professional development program for this academic year.

With initial support through a $1 million gift from Stephen J. Cloobeck, founder of Diamond Resorts International, Inc., HillelWell will provide resources and training to campus professionals to better prepare them to serve student bodies that are showing increasing rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health and wellness concerns.

“Our goal is to create an integrated Jewish approach to mental health, focused on giving young people the knowledge and skills to balance their spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational and emotional wellbeing,” said Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, senior rabbinic scholar for Hillel International, who is overseeing HillelWell. “This approach seeks not only to normalize mental health and wellness and remove its current stigmas, but also to promote it as a way to enrich the Jewish people and the world.”

This issue is not new to Hillel. Research shows that one in three college freshmen will report a mental health disorder, and one in 12 college students will make a suicide plan. Researchers also believe even these statistics underrepresent the issue. Barriers to effective prevention and treatment include lack of campus resources, stigma and fear – causing many young adults to suffer in isolation.

HillelWell will address the mental health and wellness crisis on campus in tangible ways that will include: launching a HillelWell lab with five to seven campus participants that will each pilot an innovative, scalable wellness initiative; providing in-person and online training for at least 400 Hillel professionals; collaborating with Hillel International’s student cabinet to ensure HillelWell is integrated into all programming; developing resource guides for campus professionals to create their own wellness strategies.

HillelWell will also incorporate longstanding practices including “unplugging” for Shabbat, the intentionality of Jewish tradition, mindfulness of prayer and meditation.

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