Jewish Mental Health Initiative

 by Lauren Schwartz, MSW

-After I had my baby I felt like I was in a fog. People expected me to be so happy but it was all I could do to get out of bed to nurse.

-I feel worried all the time--I worry that I don’t know what to say to friends, that they don’t like me, that when they are being nice, they are really making fun of me. I get so overwhelmed that I would just rather be alone.

-When I started, I smoked pot to relax at the end of a hard day. By the time I got help, I was using it to jump start the day, get through the day, and go to sleep.


At CJFS we hear stories like these every day. Mental illness and/or addiction will touch all of us at some point, regardless of our faith, regardless of our finances. 1 in 5 people will experience a serious mental health disorder at some point in their life. As a Jewish community, it is our responsibility to recognize and respond. That is why I am so excited to share that in Birmingham, we are doing just that. The Jewish Mental Health Initiative 2020 is a collaboration of every Birmingham Jewish organization and congregation, funded by the Birmingham Jewish Foundation and CJFS. Our purpose is simple:

To raise awareness of mental health issues and their impact on our community

To reduce the stigma that is associated with mental illness and addiction

To connect people to the resources they need for help

Throughout this year we will be providing information and offering programs centered on achieving these goals. Already 15 of our clergy and community professionals participated in a full-day training in Mental Health First Aid for Youth, a program that prepares them to recognize signs and symptoms and to provide referrals to appropriate resources. We were so fortunate to have Leigh Cohen Long and Katie Smith of Homewood City Schools Guidance Department provide the training and share their expertise and experience.

To kick off the Initiative, join one of these congregations during Mental Health Awareness Shabbaton as we strive to learn, support and understand one another: 


January 31   Shabbat services; 5:45pm Temple Emanu-El, speaker Joye Madden

February 1   Shabbat services; 9am Knesseth Israel

                            Shabbat services; 9:30am Temple Beth El, speaker Valerie Thompson

February 2   Class; 9:30-11:30am, Chabad,  “The Thing About Normal”, with Rabbi Yossi Friedman


Our plans for JMHI 2020 include Community Healing Services, a Parent-Teen program and Community Educational Trainings. If you would like to be involved in planning or participating, please email me at