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Let’s Talk’ mental health event sparks progress

An inaugural ‘Let’s Talk’ mental health awareness evening, held in February by the Edgware & Hendon Reform Synagogue, proved a resounding success – prompting plans to stage further similar events at the venue in future.

This well attended forum included valuable insights from the first-hand experiences of mental health issues related courageously by both young and older people, along with a range of advice and help provided by a panel of informed speakers.

Organised by the Synagogue’s Welfare Practitioner, Val Joseph, and chaired by broadcaster, presenter and producer Phil Dave, the ‘Let’s Talk’ seminar was initially addressed by Michael Benjamin, father of the evening’s keynote speaker Jonny Benjamin, whose appearance was unfortunately precluded through illness.

Jonny is a vlogger, award-winning mental health campaigner, film producer, public speaker and writer. At the age of 20 he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar, and later began making films on YouTube.

Michael kindly filled in for his son and was followed by 13-year old Synagogue member Harry, who described his own personal issues related to anxiety. Harry explained how he’d decided to channel his OCD fears about being sick and of germs into a positive project linked to his Bar Mitzvah.

After confidently taking questions from attendees, Harry was followed by a Q&A panel session comprising Laurie Rackind, CEO of Jami, the Jewish community’s mental health services provider, Joe Shearer from the Amy Winehouse Foundation, and Sharon Daniels, Wellbeing and Inclusion Manager with Reform Judaism. They all spoke about the support their organisations provide, with Michael Benjamin noting that the increasing ability to talk openly about all forms of mental health illness is a considerable help to children at school, for example.

Mental health support services including XenZone, the online platform Kooth, and The Hub of Hope (run by mental health charity Chasing the Stigma) were all mentioned as available resources during the panel discussion, which included questions and observations from delegates at the event.

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith closed out proceedings by facilitating a discussion among a number of round table groups, having asked those attending to consider ideas for future initiatives that will help move actions forward. This ‘break out’ session included suggestions for a database of mental health support providers in the local community, mentoring schemes, intergenerational chats, and support for supporters.

Three representatives from the Molly Rose Foundation were pleased to attend the ‘Let’s Talk’ mental health awareness evening. Val Joseph from the Edgware & Hendon Reform Synagogue concluded by drawing attention to the aim of setting up a mental health working party, whose membership is open to all. If you wish to be involved, please contact: rabbi.mark@ehrs.uk

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