How Jewish community organizations are supporting mental health

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Meditation. Journaling. Yoga. Self-care. Mindfulness.

These tools can help improve mental health. They are all part of how organizations such as the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Jewish Community Services, both agencies of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, are focused on mental health, and now more than ever.

“The pandemic seems to have brought this pressing need to the forefront,” said Trillion Attwood, director of programs & visitor experience at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

JMM has been hosting a virtual program during the pandemic called Pausing Together: Journaling With JMM. This program consists of weekly 30-minute sessions where participants respond to writing prompts. The prompts are related to what they have experienced in the past year and allow people to discover their common experiences. Some of them decide to share their experiences with the group.

“The conversation always focuses upon discovered connections and common experiences,” Attwood said.

In addition to connecting with others, participants have an opportunity to reflect on how they feel, which can be difficult to do with a busy work schedule.

“The pace of life today, especially during the pandemic, can make it challenging to find time to focus on one’s own mental health,” Attwood said. “By offering a weekly window to pause and reflect, this program offers a chance to build this important practice into our weekly routine.”

JMM also uses this program to add personal stories to their collections and exhibits showcasing what life was like during the pandemic and how COVID-19 impacted people’s mental health, said Joanna Church, the director of collections and exhibits at JMM.

“Though we’ve been collecting artifacts and photos as well, our focus has been on words, written or spoken, through oral history interviews, newsletters and announcements and personal stories,” she said.

At JCS, the “social service arm” of The Associated, staff provide a variety of important services.

This includes events and programs to support individuals during the pandemic and now as they adjust to a new normal.

However, this mental health support is not new. It has been a priority of JCS for a long time.

“We’ve been doing this stuff for kids and for the community for 35-40 years,” said Howard Reznick, the senior manager of prevention & wellness at JCS.

JCS has hosted events on different days, had longer and shorter events and covered different topics or issues.

JCS has an event called Yoga for the Mind for people who want a more in-depth yoga program. Another, Cabin Fever, provides participants with meditation, mindfulness exercises, guided imagery and self-care techniques. Manic Mondays, at 3 p.m. every week, includes mindfulness exercises to get people ready for a new week.

In addition, JCS provides private services to clients, like psychotherapy and career counseling.

“The offering of different lengths of programs, frequency of programs and facilitators of programs really allow … each individual in the community to pick and choose what worked for them,” said Sara Amin, the manager of marketing and communications at JCS.

During the pandemic, JCS has had a record turnout for their events. There has been a higher demand for mental health services, Reznick said.

Recognizing this, he has been telling participants “that, in abnormal times, it was normal to feel the broad range of feelings that many people were experiencing.”

8/6/21 10:11 a.m. Update: this story was updated to include a schedule change for the Manic Mondays program, and removal of the 3 at 3 program, as JCS does not currently host it.

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