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Spotlight on Teen Mental Health – Too Much Stress?

The silhouette of a head pointing left is made up of black and blue hands. Above the head reads "spotlight on," and in the head reads "teen mental health."

Shining the Light: Spotlight on Teen Mental Health logo

Teens find some answers at Adat Shalom workshops.

Every now and again, the typical teenager forgets to hand in a homework assignment. To the Gen X adult, this may seem a minor academic transgression. But, to their teen children, negative thoughts about a late assignment can balloon into anxiety about slipping grade point averages, rejection from colleges, less opportunities in a future that looks bleak and uncertain.

Welcome to the mindset of today’s average teenager. According to a 2016 community assessment study by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and its counterpart, the Jewish Fund, about 53 percent of the youth responders indicated they or their friends struggle with anxiety and just less than half struggle with sadness, depression or low self-esteem.

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Dr. Jackie Issner

Dr. Jackie Issner

Taking a proactive and responsive approach to this study, Adat Shalom Synagogue of Farmington Hills in February and March is offering “Teen Stress 101” workshops on mental health, facilitated by clinical psychologist Jackie Issner, Ph.D., LP.

The workshops are open to enrolled Nosh & Drash students, other Adat Shalom teens and their friends. On March 5 and 12, Issner will offer workshops to parents in the community, and these parents do not have to have a teen enrolled in the Monday evening program.

“Being a human is stressful, and there will always be good and bad stressors in life,” Issner said. “Through these workshops, I want to give students and their parents supportive tools and knowledge on how to handle these uncomfortable emotions. I also want to make them aware of what red flags to look for if anxiety reaches a point where it is necessary to contact a mental health counselor.”

After the first meeting, where the students spoke openly about what caused them stress and anxiety, Issner said the next two sessions would involve activities that center around the connections and interactions within the “triangle of thoughts, feelings and behaviors.”

“We will explore the connectedness between these three elements and how thinking negatively will ultimately lead to negative behaviors,” Issner said. “However, by thinking positively and using coping mechanisms like deep breathing and mindful meditation, kids can literally rewrite the messages they send to themselves from negative to positive ones.”

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Jodi Gross, director of adult learning and youth engagement at Adat Shalom who serves on the community’s Teen Mental Task Force, said her synagogue’s strategy from the task force findings is to begin with this workshop to focus on the teens, then their parents and, in coming months, to address other age groups, including children in their pre-b’nai mitzvah years. 

Gross said the teens asked to create this workshop. Creating a safe space to address mental health within their Jewish community of peers seemed the most nurturing solution.

Jessica Goldberg

Jessica Goldberg

Student Jessica Goldberg of Farmington Hills helped craft the workshop series. She said that during a busy school day at North Farmington High School, there never seems to be the right place and time to talk about stress and anxiety at school. It just seemed more natural to bring up these feelings amongst her Jewish friends in a Jewish space.

This is also why Goldberg recently founded Sib4Sib, a support group held at Adat Shalom to provide a safe space and community for teens to express the frustrations of having a sibling struggling with mental health.

“Stress can be very isolating. As a teen, you sometimes think you are going through all these problems on your own, and you are the only one feeling stressed, anxious or unsure about the future,” said Goldberg, who hopes to pursue a career in clinical psychology. “But after we got to talking together at the first workshop, a lot of us realized we are stressed about the same things. And when you realize you are not alone, that is a good way start to alleviating some of the anxiety.”

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The workshops for parents about teen stress, open to the community, will run from 6:45-8 p.m. March 5 and 12. For details, contact Director of Education Melissa Ser at (248) 626-2153 or email mser@adatshalom.org.

Stacy Gittleman

Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com

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