In January 2023, the Hebrew Watchman reported that Memphis Jewish Federation (Federation) received a grant from Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to train facilitators on teen wellness strategies in the community in partnership with the Wendy and Avron B. Fogelman Jewish Family Service (FJFS). On October 17, 2023, nine Jewish teens gathered at Beth Sholom synagogue for their first teen mental health session in a six-week series.

The teen Mental Health First Aid (TMHFA) program is part of the BeWell initiative of JFNA and the first-of-its-kind mental health initiative designed to “equip the Jewish community with tools, resources, and training to support the mental health and overall well-being of teens and young adults,” according to the JFNA website.

Beth Sholom’s program includes a dinner followed by a one-hour session facilitated by Kayla Salomon, LCSW, LSSW, and BBYO advisor, and Emily Davis, LMSW – both staff members of FJFS. Each session covers a different topic, such as identifying signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges, how to interact with a child or adolescent in crisis, and the impact of social media and bullying.

The series is underwritten by the Sidney Kay Memorial Fund at the Jewish Foundation of Memphis, a fund committed to honoring the life of Sidney Kay through programming, fundraising, and charitable donations with a focus on adolescent mental health.

“The pain of losing a child to suicide is something that no parents should have to experience, which is why the mission of the Sidney Kay Memorial Fund is educating as many people as possible on recognizing the need for help and strategies and resources that are available to address adolescents who may be experiencing a mental health crisis,” share Larissa and Jeff Kay. “The curriculum that our young adults in the Memphis Jewish community are being taught is fully aligned with what we are trying to achieve, which is why it is a pleasure to sponsor these classes.”

The training is not designed to be therapeutic but rather to teach teens how to identify a problem and find an appropriate adult to intervene. “This is truly first-aid, just like you would use first aid to fix a cut,” says Ms. Salomon. “We’re not asking kids to treat anything or do therapy. We just want them to be able to identify that there’s a problem and go get help from a trusted adult.”

While teens were previously dealing with the stress and isolation they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are now being inundated with violence and antisemitism on social media and worry about being singled out due to their Jewish identity.

“Addressing Teen Mental Health has reached new levels of importance, as it is approaching crisis levels nationally,” shares Julee Snitzer Levine, director of education at Beth Sholom Synagogue. “Offering TMHFA gives teens training in essential peer support rooted in research and data. Offering it as a part of our T3 (Teen Talmud Torah) program connects it to deep Jewish wisdom on the imperative to save a life, support a friend, and be an upstander in the face of crisis and distress.

“In Pirke Avot, it is stated: Lo Alecha Hamlacha Ligmor…You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you permitted to abstain from it,” continues Ms. Levine. “Teens trained in TMHFA learn triage-level strategies and skills concurrently with empathy and awareness. It has also raised their awareness of who safe adults and sources of support are in their circles. I am honored to be a part of that circle and to partner with everyone who has made this course a reality.”

FJFS offers ongoing TMHFA training for the community aimed at teaching adults how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental health and substance abuse challenges among children and adolescents aged 12-18, according to Rashki Osina, LCSW, director of Social Services at FJFS.

“We are continually reaching out to support our local Jewish organizations in any we can,” shared Ms. Osina. “If any organization would like to provide in-house TMHFA training like the one being offered at Beth Sholom, we would love to collaborate. We can also provide other mental health services or training, depending on the needs of the organization.”

For more information about mental health training and services, contact FJFS at 901.767.8511.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line: 24/7 text DS to 741741