There’s a whole side of TikTok that’s always popping up in my feed—it’s expressly devoted to laughing about the debilitating anxiety and depression so many of us experience daily while simply trying to function as human adults. I watch the one-person skits, noncommittal dances, and monologues soundtracked by 90s pop remixes, and I think, I’m glad we’re talking about these issues. But is this helping?
Because we sure need the help. In the United States, anxiety is the most common mental illness, affecting 40 million adults annually.1 And (because apparently we haven’t suffered enough) some studies have shown that depression can disproportionately affect some Jewish people.2
As cathartic as expressing ourselves creatively can be—whether that be in TikToks or journaling, yoga or jogging—talking directly to another human can be even more helpful. Community is one of the best assets we have as Jewish people, especially in working towards mental health.
Isolation, though appealing when we’re in a dark place, can actually serve to compound our crises. In the silence, the lies we’re telling ourselves get louder, our perspectives warp, and we can develop some unhealthy habits. The journey towards health urges us to reach out to someone outside of ourselves, to look to our community for healing, accountability, and comfort. It’s ingrained in the Tanakh, exemplified by the fact that we hear in detail about the inner turmoil of so many of our forefathers/mothers. They didn’t shy away from speaking up about their struggles, whether to others or directly to God.
Knowing how to utilize that community in a way that’s truly helpful is where things can get tricky. Talking about our anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders can be daunting to broach and difficult to articulate—and we never know if it will be received well.
In my own journey toward mental health, I’ve found that there’s only one variable I could control: myself. Though I can’t ensure a conversation will be fruitful, I’ve found the following to be helpful guiding principles in having productive conversations about mental health:
King David laid the groundwork. He spoke openly and honestly with God about what he was experiencing—the Psalms almost read like the transcript of a therapy session. It’s likely that he, too, suffered from depression and anxiety. In his fortieth Psalm, he lamented, “My heart fails within me,” and again in the forty-third Psalm, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”
He wasn’t afraid to speak frankly about his issues, and we can boldly follow in step with that tradition. Conversations about mental health don’t bring about instantaneous resolutions. But acknowledging the pain of our experiences to someone else can allow us to make room for the rest of the truth. We were never meant to do this thing called “life” alone. It’s comforting to know that God is always available and willing to be our sounding board, our therapist, and our perspective-refresher. We just have to be willing to speak up.
1. “Facts & Statistics,” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, n.d., accessed September 3, 2020.
2. Levav et al., “Vulnerability of Jews to affective disorders,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 1997.