By LAURIE KRAMER, MPH
You are cordially invited to celebrate an unusual B’nai Mitzva on Sunday, Oct. 13 — the 13th anniversary of the Twin Cities Jewish Community Annual Conference on Mental Health.
Temple Israel in Minneapolis has graciously hosted the mental health conference every year since 2001. Agencies, schools and congregations from all segments of the Twin Cities Jewish community sponsor the conference, which is free and open to everyone.
The American Jewish World is a media sponsor of the event.
When the conference began 13 years ago, mental health problems were not discussed openly in the Jewish community. Shame and stigma kept these topics well hidden. The many individuals who struggled — and the families who tried to help — often felt isolated, thinking they were the only ones in the Jewish community dealing with these problems.
The conference started in response to the untimely death of Barbara Schneider, a woman active in the local Jewish community who struggled for decades with bipolar disorder.
Thirteen years later, the problems have not disappeared. Individuals and families continue to struggle and the issues are still painful. But the community dialogue is open, and no one needs to feel they are alone.
About 500 people attend the conference each year. It has become a regular feature of the Jewish community calendar thanks to strong support from the Jewish family service agencies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the active involvement of devoted committee members, and generous financial contributions from organizations and individuals.
The conference includes a personal talk by a well-known keynoter, two dozen workshops on a range of topics, a resource fair, refreshments, a book signing and a closing ceremony. Mental health professionals are available throughout the day to chat one-on-one or answer questions.
Every year there are new topics to cover, new approaches about which to learn, and new presenters willing to share personal and professional perspectives. And every year, there are new individuals and families who come to learn, share and get support from others who may be traveling a similar path.
Over the years, keynoters have offered powerful descriptions of their struggles with depression, anxiety, mania, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, addiction and eating disorders. Other topics — including dementia, Asperger’s syndrome, psychosis, suicide, shame, grief and loss, and the mental health problems of childhood and adolescence — are discussed in workshops presented by physicians, therapists, rabbis and individuals with personal or family experience.
At this year’s conference, keynoter Dave Wellstone will talk about healing from tragedy and carrying on the mental health legacy of his father, Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Two pre-conference special events are also planned: the opening night performance of Redbird Road, a provocative new play by Minnesota playwright Daniel Frank about the impact of serious mental illness on a middle-class Jewish family, on Thursday, Oct. 3 at the Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd. S., St. Louis Park; and a 13th anniversary celebration dinner and program on Thursday, Oct. 10 at the Shaller Family Campus/Sholom East, 740 Kay Ave., St. Paul.
Reactions to recent conferences suggest that the conference continues to meet an important need. Here are a few testimonials:
• “I believe you have all made a successful impact within the Jewish community. The dialogue is open and no longer totally behind closed doors.”
• “Thanks and mazel tov on such a successful and important event. I am so aware of the stigma of mental illness, as my husband has been sidelined by depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for more than three years now. He looks fine. There is a lot of judgment and misunderstanding. Thank you for making this happen.”
• “It just keeps getting better every year.”
Come join us on Oct. 13. The door is always open.
Laurie Kramer, MPH, founded the Mental Health Education Project and has been conference coordinator since 2001.
The Twin Cities Jewish Community Annual Conference will take place on Sunday, Oct. 13 at Temple Israel, 2324 Emerson Ave. S., Minneapolis. For information and to register for the conference or pre-conference special events, go to: www.jfcsmpls.org or call 651-698-0767.