Conferene of Chabad rabbis in Northbrook focuses on mental health
The current state of the world, particularly the little part of it that is Illinois, led rabbis throughout the state to focus on mental health at their annual conference.
More than 100 rabbis and their wives, or rebbetzin, attended the Kinus Hashluchim Conference of Chabad Emissaries July 24-25 at the Crowne Plaza Northbrook.
Identifying people who may be struggling with mental health issues, and applying tools to serve them and direct them to professional help, was an emphasis of this year's conference.
"The 50 Chabad centers throughout the state of Illinois are led by dedicated rabbis and staff who are selflessly devoted to their respective communities, caring for both the needs of the soul and the needs of the body," said Meir Moscowitz, rabbi and director of Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook, and the regional director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois.
"Unfortunately in recent years, significantly impacted by COVID and the loneliness that it brought, and the recent events in Highland Park further brought out the need to give us the tools and the training to be able to serve the community."
Moscowitz cited National Council for Behavioral Health figures, stating one in five Americans has untreated symptoms of mental health issues and is either reluctant to seek help or does not know where to find it.
As a rabbi, Moscowitz said he and his colleagues often are "first responders" in countering this problem.
Thus, he said, a significant part of the conference dealt with training in Mental Health First Aid. He described a five-step course that gives tools to help identify, understand and respond to a person who may be struggling with a mental health or substance abuse, and to direct them to support when necessary.
The training taught participants how to spot anxiety disorders, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress, depression and other issues.
"It is important to note that they were not trained to treat these disorders. That can be done only by a licensed social worker, therapist or doctor," Moscowitz said.
The rabbi said he left the conference with "an expanded tool box."
Rabbi Chaim Schanowitz, co-director of Chabad of Deerfield and the leader of the Chabad Teen Network of Deerfield, or "CTeen," agreed.
"This conference and training provided me with tools to be there for those going through mental health challenges," he said.
"Due to recent events, we have seen more people struggling. It is important for them to know that they are supported and we are there for them."
Moscowitz said the attendance of such a large number of peers sharing their experiences within their own communities, in tandem with the mental health training they received at the conference, felt empowering.
The Northbrook Chabad leader adheres to a philosophy that positive thoughts and acts create a ripple effect able to impact people worldwide. He acknowledged that it has become hard work to maintain such positivity.
"Every human being is made up of body and soul, and we can't ignore either part of our existence. As rabbis, we are well-versed in the needs of the soul, and this conference gave us tools to also help the body," Moscowitz said.
"Being so enmeshed in the community, we are constantly interacting with people of all ages, and the need for a listening ear, a good word, encouragement and guidance has never been greater."