An open letter to the community
By Leigh Ioffe, Founder and Director, The Long Short Road
We are experiencing a teen mental health crisis in the frum world. Suicide deaths have increased. So many teens are struggling with anxiety, depression, and trauma, and are turning to self-harm and drugs to cope with their pain. These challenges are everywhere. There is not a single family in the frum world today that has not been directly affected by a mental health challenge.
How can we begin to help this struggling generation?
I don’t claim to have all the answers. To be honest, I sometimes struggle to find any answers. But, as someone who has had the z’chus of supporting hundreds of teenagers with mental health challenges, here is what I have learned. To raise resilient and capable teens, we need to stop treating them like problems to be solved. They are not problems. They are neshamos in pain who need support in their times of darkness.
As a crisis management professional, it is my job to hold space for people while they ride the waves of suicidal ideation, addiction, and depression. A pattern that has emerged in all of these relationships is a desire to be seen and loved exactly as they are right now and not for who they could potentially be if they were “healthier.” The solution is not to be found solely in the treatments we can offer them but in the love, kindness, and compassion we bring to the relationship.
Of course, as parents, educators, and concerned community members, we want to provide our young people with tools and help them foster a sense of resilience and responsibility for their healing. But that cannot happen without a foundation of non-judgment, kindness, and humility on our part.
So, how can we help a generation that is drowning in emotional pain? When a teen tells you they are struggling, believe them. Take their words seriously. Don’t assume they are “just looking for attention” or “being dramatic.” Listen with an open heart and without judgment. Know that it is okay not to have all the answers—even the professionals don’t know everything! This isn’t about being perfect but being present to them in their pain. Showing up for our children holds the keys that open doors to new levels of healing. I have seen this with my own eyes. And while the road to healing is far from straightforward, it is made less treacherous when they know we are in their corner.
What’s more, the cry of a teen in crisis is an opportunity for each of us to turn inward and decide how to do our own work to heal. Be humble enough to recognize that you don’t have all the answers, and humble more still to turn inwards and see where you have room to heal, too.
The Rebbe spoke extensively about the power of youth. “Youth has special qualities of untapped reserves of energy and enthusiasm” (Rebbe letter dated 20 Iyar, 5720). As much as they are fighting an inner battle, they also have the strength, foresight, and attitude to become the next generation’s leaders. When we imbue teens with a foundation of love and connection, we help them actualize their full potential.
Let’s help our teens choose life by creating a safe, compassionate world for them to live in. Hold their hand in times of pain, show them that you are there for them and that no challenge will ever change how much you love them. This is the starting point that makes healing possible.
Together, with compassion, kindness, and humility, we can heal this generation and generations to come.
The Long Short Road is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives through suicide prevention and mental wellness education. Since 2019, we have prevented dozens of suicides and supported thousands of at-risk teens and their families as they navigate mental health crises. Our programs include a therapy subsidization fund, trauma-informed healing arts programs, and a non-emergency hotline.
Today, we are running a fundraiser to support our life-affirming efforts. Support our mission and the healing of the next generation by visiting www.charidy.com/unitedinhealing.