By Jori Mendel, Chief Foundation Officer, and Sara Allen, Executive Director of the Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative and Associate Vice President, Community & Jewish Life, JFNA
Coming out of the pandemic, we continue to navigate the immediate health, financial, and political impact of COVID, particularly on our young people. Our Jewish institutions remain committed to helping them thrive, yet it is an undeniable fact that a genuine mental health crisis is hitting Atlanta’s youth population and their caregivers the hardest. The past two years have laid bare pervasive and increasing levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness, which all impact them and the people who care for them.
In partnership with many of our communities most dynamic leaders, I’ve had the privilege of embarking on a remarkable journey in 2020, the Atlanta Jewish Foundation launched the Atlanta Jewish Funder Collaborative, to figure out how our community could emerge stronger, which identified expanding mental health services as a key community priority. The Atlanta Jewish Funder Collaborative embarked on a research project to interview local stakeholders, analyze the findings, and build a roadmap for the community.
The project, conducted throughout November 2021 – March 2022, was a joint effort of Jewish Federations of North America with an Atlanta consultant to provide a local perspective. Here in Atlanta more than 50 individuals and organizations were interviewed, representing a broad array of both religious and secular perspectives. Additional group interviews were scheduled for members of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association, and teens and youth professionals connected to JumpSpark, Atlanta’s Jewish Teen Initiative. The Collaborative looked closely at secular local offerings in mental health, such as Resilient Georgia, to understand the full scope of potential partnerships and resources available.
We invite you to join us on Wednesday, June 22, 12 –1:30 pm, to learn more about the urgency in addressing mental health services at our upcoming Community Conversation on Mental Health. This event will convene at Federation, 1440 Spring Street NW. Moderating the conversation will be Dr. Stephanie Walsh, MD, MS, Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine and Medical Director of Child Wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). The organizations joining us for conversation will also include; Blue Dove Foundation, In The City Camps, Jeff’s Place, JF&CS, SOJOURN. Register today.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in March 2022 of an accelerating mental health crisis among adolescents, with more than 4 in 10 teens reporting that they feel “persistently sad or hopeless,” and 1 in 5 saying they have contemplated suicide. Voices for Georgia’s Children reinforced these statistics: 41% of children ages 3-17 in the state struggle to or are not able to access needed mental health treatment and counseling. Among U.S. adults aged 18-29, the impact on mental health was even more severe. Rates of anxiety and depression increased to 65 percent and 61 percent, respectively, of respondents in that age group, according to the report.
Among many things, this research highlighted overarching mental health issues and needs specific to the Atlanta Jewish community, and validated that the same challenges are throughout the greater Atlanta area and true nationally:
- Lack of coordination of care: professionals attempting to address mental health issues work in siloes.
- Stigma is a significant barrier to getting help.
- Access to support is extremely limited due to clinical staff shortages and a general lack of knowledge about how to access existing resources.
- Resiliency building can avert and prevent mental health issues and crises, and yet there is extraordinarily little opportunity for professionals or children and their families to learn those skills.
- Jewish organizations are under-resourced to support both everyday wellbeing needs and mental health crisis situations; many do not have the financial capacity to meet needs.
- Georgia has a more acute clinical staffing shortage than any other state. There simply are not enough trained mental health practitioners to meet demand, and those that are in the field are overtaxed, stretched very thin, and need support themselves.