Today, teens and young people are struggling. More than 3 million adolescents, representing over 13% of the population, have experienced a major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The numbers are equally high for adolescents experiencing eating disorders, substance abuse and a variety of other mental health challenges. Attempted and completed suicide rates continue to rise.

Jewish teens are not immune. This is why the Cincinnati Jewish Teen Collective is making adolescent wellness a priority in our community.

To learn how to support adolescents and assist youth experiencing mental health challenges, the Collective, in partnership with Jewish Family Service, is now offering training courses in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA).  The training program, first developed in Australia, teaches participants to better understand typical adolescent development, spot signs and symptoms of mental health challenges, and respond to a youth experiencing a crisis. Just like certified medical first aid/CPR responders, adults trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid are equipped give assistance in crisis until appropriate professional help is received.

Mental health professionals working with the Teen Collective joined the nine other communities that comprise the Jewish Teen Education and Funder Collaborative in Nashville for a three day “train-the-trainer” program led by the National Council of Behavioral Health. These 12 professionals from around the country are now all certified instructors, returning to their home communities prepared to work closely with their local teen initiatives to offer YMHFA trainings for a variety of audiences, such as parents and educators. In addition, they will gather virtually as a network to learn with and support each other, the only community of practice of this kind in the Jewish community.

To enrich the YMHFA training and ensure its relevance for the unique needs of the Jewish community, the Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative partnered with The Jewish Education Project to create a companion guide for YMHFA facilitators to help infuse Jewish wisdom, values and context into the program. The Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative has also created a free wellness resource guide highlighting Jewish texts, sources and wisdom for educators to draw on in their work.

“Mental health is a growing challenge that is impacting all of society, but nowhere is this more present than in the lives of our teenagers. It just takes one person to save a life, and for that reason we want as many people as possible to benefit from this important training.” said Jeff Blumental, director of the Cincinnati Jewish Teen Collective.

“In our aspiration to be a community that supports the needs of its members, including our developing young people, the core elements of well-being must be a priority,” said Brian Jaffee, executive director of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, which provides local funding for the Cincinnati Jewish Teen Collective.

Two trainings are scheduled for parents of Jewish teens taking place in December and January. Each training is split into two four-hour sessions and you must attend both sessions to receive your certification. Additional trainings are also currently being planned. These trainings will be led by two community professionals:

Ari Handel, MSW, LSW, is B’nai B’rith Youth Organization’s international director of Inclusion. In this role since 2106, she supports teens throughout all programs with any needed accommodations, modifications, and support and trains all staff and volunteer advisors to ensure that teen’s needs are being met. She has established the first international network of teens who serve on the BBYO Inclusion Committee. Together, the 40 teens and Handel focus on promoting inclusion in several programing areas including LGBTQ+ inclusion, mental health inclusion, disability inclusion, global inclusion, and more. Handel hires and supervises all wellness staff including a team of social workers, nurses, and doctors at residential programs. Prior to the role, she supervised teens and young adults who worked one-on-one with children with varying abilities in camp and religious school settings. Before working in inclusion-focused roles, Handel was a school social worker in a middle school.

Linda Kean is the vice president of Operations and Youth & Family Services. She oversees agency-wide initiatives to support the ongoing development of JFS systems, staff and programs. She serves as a liaison for communication and collaboration with organizations within the community. In her work with Youth and Family Services, since joining JFS in 2000, she has overseen the development and implementation of education programs for adults and children and the Bigs & Littles mentoring program. She provides oversight for the continuation of adoption supportive services. Her experience with programming and group facilitation includes parenting, youth relationship violence prevention, and domestic violence prevention. Kean is a certified family life educator and has worked in Jewish education since 1996.