By Rae Wee
When Ateret Frank was just 13 years old, she was in class one day when suddenly, her hands turned numb and she almost lost her sense of sight totally.
Terrified, she asked to be excused to the nurse’s office and ran out of class, only able to see her surroundings in patches of white.
As a result, Frank crashed into a row of lockers and collapsed to the floor, only to be found unconscious by a nurse later on.
That was the first panic attack that she had ever experienced.
Now, at 21, Frank suffers from generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which she relies on medication to keep in check.
Frank was just one of four speakers to share about her struggle with mental illness at the “Stomp Out the Stigma” event on Nov 28, hosted by the JLIC at Maryland.
The aim of the event was simple — to provide speakers with a platform to share their stories without fear of being judged, as well as for audiences to be able to relate, empathize and lend a listening ear to them.
The brains behind the event, Miriam Schwartz, an OU-JLIC Educator at Maryland Hillel, said she was motivated to organize the event because she wanted to change the way the Jewish community views mental health issues.
“I think especially within the Jewish community, there’s a very heavy emphasis on looking for a suitable partner and finding someone that’s the ideal mate for yourself,” she said. “Something that people take into account is ‘Wow, I don’t want to marry someone that has x, y or z problem.’ and so in our community, a lot of times people keep things very quiet and secretive.”
Also among the speakers was 19-year-old Yona Levitt, a freshman psychology major who suffers from depression.
For him, one of the hardest things about dealing with his mental illness was coming to terms with it.
“I felt like I was backtracking if I was actually going to admit it,” he said. “It was extremely difficult for me to ask for help because I wanted to ask for help but there was something inside of me that was making me not do that.”
But he eventually reached a breaking point when suicidal thoughts started to cloud his mind, which forced him to seek help.
“I was in a full state of crisis mode, I thought I was probably going to kill myself within the week if I didn’t ask for help,” he said.
However, both Frank and Levitt said they were fortunate enough to have met people who were very understanding and empathetic when they opened up to them.
“Everybody who I’ve told (about my condition) have been very accepting of it and sometimes ask questions, which I like,” Frank said.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, talking to people suffering from a mental illness is often the first step to take in order to find out what one can do to help.
“(This event) to me was a way to start that conversation, so that people who are struggling can get the support that they need instead of having to deal with people who are not understanding or alone,” said Schwartz.
However, Frank, Levitt, and Schwartz agreed that as much as showing concern for people suffering from mental health issues is appreciated, one should also know how to strike a balance in showing that they care.
“Sometimes people can over exaggerate or be there too much, and always be talking about how you’re feeling or how you’re doing,” Schwartz said. “On one hand, if you notice that your friend is not feeling well, it’s important to check in, but don’t let that always be the topic of conversation.”
“The same way if somebody fails a test or somebody has diabetes, that doesn’t define every day of their lives, and so mental illness should also not define every day of somebody’s life,” she added.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pixabay.
Rae Wee is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.