BeWell Memphis Team: Pictured L to R: Rebecca Frary, Rashki Osina, Kayla Salomon and Emily Davis
By Melinda Lejman
For most families, the term “first-aid” likely conjures images of a kit filled with Band-Aids and antibacterial ointment used to treat skinned knees and minor cuts. But when it comes to navigating the more complex challenges of teen mental health issues, where do parents and their children turn? Thanks to a grant from Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Memphis Jewish Federation (Federation) will now partner with Wendy and Avron Fogelman Jewish Family Service (Fogleman JFS) to launch BeWell Memphis and train facilitators to provide teen wellness strategies in the community.
The $16,000 grant is part of JFNA’s BeWell: Helping Teens and Young Adults Thrive initiative in partnership with the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies and is a response to national trends indicating teen wellness issues post-COVID. Recent statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health indicated that almost half of teens between the ages of 13-18 live with a mental disorder.
Data collected by Federation via a parent and teen survey further indicated the need for mental health intervention. Of the teens surveyed, 78.9 percent reported experiencing excessive worrying, fear, and anxiety and 68 percent reported sadness or depression. Parents noted the difficulty of finding appropriate and affordable mental health services and the need for access to programming geared toward teens and families.
Grant Beeber, a member of the Teen Wellness Task Force formed by Federation earlier this year, volunteered to go through the mental health first aid training. “I learned a lot regarding mental health disorders, stigma, challenges, and how to communicate with your peers,” shared Grant. “It really was eye-opening to me how much information is really behind this and I think when more people in our community experience it, we will all benefit.”
The Teen Wellness Task Force, co-chaired by Rashki Osina, Fogelman JFS Director of Social Services, and Kayla Salomon, social worker with the Shelby County schools and BBYO advisor, was born out of Federation’s Needs Assessment and Planning Collaborative formed in early 2022. The purpose of the Collaborative is to establish a data-driven process that collects accurate and useful data to help determine community needs and necessary financial resources. Based on information and national trends exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, teen wellness was one of the early specific task forces formed as a result of the Collaborative.
“A Federation collaborative can bring together all of the different agencies in the community and we have already seen huge success with the Senior Collaborative,” shared Susanne Landau, chair of the Needs Assessment and Planning Collaborative. “I think this is a role that Federation plays very well. One of the powerful things about this initiative and the other collaboratives is knowing that the issue really touches everyone.”
The BeWell grant awarded from JFNA will be used to train facilitators in Youth Mental Health First Aid and Teen (Peer-to-Peer) Mental Health First Aid, including Emily Davis, LMSW, and Rebecca Frary, LPC-MHSP, both therapists at Fogelman JFS, as well as Teen Wellness co-chair Kayla Salomon. Once facilitators are trained in the First Aid programs, they will begin offering workshops to teens, parents, and teen professionals on how to recognize symptoms and signs in teens and encourage teens to seek help.
“People forget that mental health is health,” says Kayla. “You know, if you have diabetes, you get medication for that. If you break a bone, you go to the doctor. [Mental health] is not embarrassing. And for us to be able to put a little bit of a Jewish twist on it makes it different from what you could normally get in the city.”
Although mental illness and mental health are becoming less stigmatized, it may not be a top priority for people to address, especially among teens with busy schedules. “We’re trying to break through that barrier by providing these courses that are nationally-known and evidence-based, where each participant gets a certificate after completing the course,” says Rashki. “And we are going to provide community service hours for the teens that come. So yes, we’re trying to teach, but also break through the stigma and these barriers that have been put up and have been very hard to break through.”
“A lot of times, teens are going to each other as the first line of defense,” adds therapist Emily Davis. “The course is empowering for teens to know what to look for among their friends as well. So, they can be an advocate for their friends and accepting of help.”
There is also an adult component for adults who work with teens to learn to spot things that might need to be addressed and provide resources that don’t necessarily require a professional. “It makes everything way more accessible, and decreases the need to go to multiple people or find a good therapist,” shares therapist Rebecca Frary. “It’s more about, ‘Have you tried self-care? What do you do to feel better? Here’s what I do to feel better.’ And it becomes more of a conversation and an exchange of information, as opposed to lessons learned from adults to kids.”
Mental Health First Aid trainings will be available at the Memphis Jewish Community Center. Please check the Fogelman JFS website for details on open classes and opportunities. The first class, open only to teen professionals who work in the Memphis Jewish community, will take place on February 15. Private trainings with an on-site facilitator are available for organizations for a small fee.
In addition to programming, per the grant requirements, Federation’s Teen Wellness Task Force will evolve into a Memphis Resiliency Roundtable modeled after JFNA’s national Resiliency Roundtable. The Memphis one will include representatives from all Jewish youth groups, schools, and synagogues, as well as community members passionate about this issue.
“I’m very excited that we were awarded a grant of $16,000, and we’ll use that money to train facilitators and empower teens and parents with the knowledge and strategies gained from the first aid courses,” shares Cindy Finestone, chair of Memphis Jewish Federation. “From there, with the help of Fogelman Jewish Family Service, we hope to gather feedback to see what’s resonating with our teens and what’s resonating with adults, and then follow up and offer additional programs to reverse some of the trends that we’re seeing.”
To learn more about BeWell Memphis, schedule an organizational on-site training, or to hear about other mental health services offered by Fogelman JFS, please contact Rashki Osina at email@example.com.