I remember as a kid, when someone had an illness it was talked about in hushed tones.
I'm not sure why words like cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's were not discussed, but that was the whispering culture that has ended in the last decade or so.
However, there are some diseases that are still stigmatized, and sufferers are often marginalized.
This week, I attended a Mental Health First Aid course. One of the presenters pointed out that if you have a family member diagnosed with cancer, everyone calls, emails, people bring over food, offer to visit, etc.
If someone has a family member diagnosed with an impairing mental illness, the support is limited and the family of the ill person as well as the person suffering from the disease is often isolated and ignored.
We can all agree that it is a Jewish value is to visit the sick.
However, mental illness is a sickness, and how many people visit those who are recovering from mental health disorders?
A few months ago, I heard a report on the radio about a class offering "Mental Health First Aid." Often times, I listen to a program on the radio and find it compelling, but rarely do I follow up on the information.
However, something about this report propelled me to find out more information, and this week, with encouragement from my colleagues at Shorashim, I was sitting at the Community Counseling Centers of Chicago learning what to do in case you encounter a mental health crisis.
The course is not intended to turn you into a psychologist or therapist. It is to give you the tools to react appropriately in a crisis until professional help arrives.
I learned how to be a "first responder" if someone is depressed, suicidal, having an anxiety attack, abusing alcohol, or having a psychotic episode.
The information was very comprehensive, and I highly recommend the class to basically anyone who has frequent dealings with the public.
The two-day class is free although space is very limited. Check out the website for more information or find a class in the Chicago area.