Jewish Federation Launches Bold Initiative to Help Youth and Families Facing Mental Health Issues

by Vivian Henoch

In a world of Facebook selfies, endless texting, relentless academic pressure and competition for perceived status among peers, it’s no wonder that teens and young people across the country, including those in Detroit, are suffering from serious mental health concerns.

A Recent Study Reveals Troubling Trends

In effort to better understand and provide for the health and social welfare needs of our community, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and The Jewish Fund partnered in late 2016 to develop and execute a community-wide social service needs assessment. While much of the data from the study confirmed what we thought to be true, information gathered about the state of mind of our teens was troubling:

  • More than 50% of the youth who responded to the survey indicated that they, or their friends, struggle with anxiety. Just less than half said that they, or their friends, are struggling with sadness, depression and low-esteem.
  • While 93% of the young people surveyed said they have a parent or other adult with whom they can discuss the things that cause them worry or stress, a significant number said they are still struggling with mental health challenges.

What we’re observing among young people in Jewish Detroit is not unique. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens between the ages of 13-18 lives with a mental health condition. Additionally, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that suicide is now a leading cause of death in young people ages 10-24.

A Community Intervention

“The 2016 Community Study showing so many of our youth are in crisis was a wake-up call to all of us in the community providing mental health services,” says Perry Ohren, Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Family Service. “It forced us to take a hard look at the programs and services being offered and think critically about how to best serve the kids and young adults who are suffering.”

In response to the study, Federation assembled a youth mental health workgroup – comprised of agency professionals, educators, clergy, synagogue staff, and youth group leadership – to develop a plan to combat the mental health crisis. Throughout 2017, the workgroup studied community mental health models in other countries, consulted with local and national mental health experts, conducted independent research, and facilitated youth focus groups.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov from Friendship Circle, a key stakeholder in the workgroup noted, “The workgroup has spent considerable time exploring different angles to the youth mental health problem in its journey towards finding the best solution for our community. Everyone has come together in true partnership because we know we need to do more for our kids.”

The workgroup’s efforts have led to the development of a community-wide plan that focuses on three pillars: education and awareness, training and interventional support. The plan aims to:

  1. Educate and inform community members of all ages to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness so that youth feel comfortable seeking help.
  2. Ensure that all professionals who engage with youth on a regular basis are trained to identify and intervene with those who may be suffering and contemplating suicide.
  3. Increase the number of medical professionals and social workers available at Jewish Family Service and within the Jewish day schools to help our kids.

“Imagine changing the conversations with our kids in our homes, in their schools and camps, and giving them the skills to be mentally healthy–that’s what we’re trying to do,” says Eric Adelman, Executive Director of Kadima.

“By changing our perspective on mental illness, we can teach our kids coping skills, how to be resilient, how to deal with stress and failure, and how to thrive.” -Eric Adelman

The community is already coming together in support of Federation’s efforts to combat Jewish Detroit’s youth mental health crisis:

  1. Susie and Norman Pappas have designated a generous portion of their 2018 Jewish Federation Challenge Fund gift to Federation’s overall youth mental health efforts.
  2. The Jewish Fund has approved funding for the training component of the workgroup’s plan described above. Dollars will be provided to train more than 850 community professionals who regularly engage with youth.
  3. The Alfred and Bernice Deutsch Millennium Fund has provided funding for Julie Fisher, M.Ed., to help Jewish day schools develop customized mental health-related programming plans for both students and parents.
  4. The Hermelin-Davidson Center for Congregational Excellence has provided funding for psychiatry resident at Michigan Medicine Jeremy Baruch to develop a mental health enhancement program that clergy can integrate into their existing B’nai Mitzvah processes. 

Crisis Support

  • If you are a parent and need counseling for a child who is experiencing anxiety, depression or sadness, contact Jewish Family Service at 248-592-2313.
  • If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide and need immediate help, contact Common Ground at 1-800-231-1127 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • If you are a young person looking for immediate help and feel most comfortable texting, contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

If you have questions about Jewish Federation’s youth mental health efforts, contact Todd Krieger at