In the first-ever visit of its kind, principals and educators from the Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) educational network visited the Eitanim psychiatric hospital as part of a year-long program dedicated to mental health awareness and prevention.
"Making educators aware of the challenges that students are facing is a crucial first step in addressing them," said Nechemia Krakover, Educational Director of the OTS network. "Our goal isn't to have our teachers take the place of therapists, but rather to make sure that we are far more aware of the issues surrounding mental health and be ready to identify warning signs of distress in our students. Given the fact that we spend many hours with these students on a regular basis, teachers are literally the first responders in this battle. Our intervention can be life-saving."
The day-long visit provided the principals with the opportunity to hear directly from staff at Eitanim, who treat youth with various mental illnesses, with a focus on early identification for children at risk. "Most people will never cross the threshold of this building, and many prefer to think that places like this don't even exist," Krakover continued. "Being exposed to this reality is extremely important because the data on the scope of mental disease is only expanding, and we need to combat the stigma that comes with addressing both illness and treatment."
As a leading educational network in Israel and around the world, Ohr Torah Stone's approach to better education and awareness includes courses for its educational staff around the globe on how to introduce the subject of mental health in a sensitive manner, familiarizing the faculty throughout the network with various types of mental illness as well as introducing them to people and families who live with mental illness. Throughout the year, the faculty reviews various methods of intervention and treatment and learns about related issues that are commonly encountered in educational settings.
"The role of community, both at home and at school, plays a critical role in supporting and assisting those suffering from mental health challenges," said Rivky Yisraeli, Educational Director at OTS's Neveh Channah High School in Gush Etzion. "In order for the community to fulfill this role, we must break the silence surrounding mental health and provide those in a position to help with the proper education and tools they need to help."
"It's no secret that the role of a rabbi, emissary or teacher is to stand beside the community, and not above it," said Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, director of the OTS Straus Amiel Emissary program, which trains and places individuals and couples in leadership and education positions in the Diaspora. "Naturally, there are people in communities with special needs and different mental states that require the help of a community leader. Therefore, we must also provide training in these sensitive issues for those who go out to serve the people of Israel."
"There is no disputing that mental health is a global epidemic that is causing unbearable pain, harming and taking too many lives of young and old. By increasing our understanding of the realities behind these conditions, and committing ourselves to addressing them, we educators on the frontlines can make a difference," said Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone