By, Sara Marcus
Active Minds, Yeshiva University’s mental health awareness club, will be partnering with Yeshiva University’s counseling center, Frisch High School, and Philip and Ruth Tepler-Roth to establish a program in memory of Jonathan Roth. The Jonathan’s Fellowship program will have Active Minds members serve as mentors to Frisch students and encourage them to be more comfortable in discussing their mental health and seeking treatment.
Jonathan’s Fellowship is named in honor of Mr. and Ms. Roth’s son, who took his own life six and a half years ago. Since then, his parents have sought to educate young people about mental health and mental illness, in order to create a more welcoming climate for these topics to be addressed, instead of them being taboo.
Ms. Roth says that she was inspired by her visit to Stomp out the Stigma in 2016. She was awed by seeing students, who were only a few years older than Jonathan had been, being so frank about their personal struggles, and the crowd of their peers who were in the audience to support them.
“I realized how powerful it could be for the high school students…to hear a young person just a few years older than themselves discuss how he/she became aware of his/her own illness, how he/she felt when they themselves were in high school, how they learned to manage. There are no words of greater impact than to hear: ‘When I was in high school, I used to think…’; or, ‘When I was in high school, I felt….’, or ‘This is what I knew I had to do to help myself….’. It is so obvious that the YU students were in a perfect position to do this work, because who would know better what a high school student needed to hear, or what could help more, than college students who themselves experienced the pain of hiding their illness while they were in high school?”
Inspired, Ms. Roth approached the administration of Frisch with a plan to connect YU and Frisch students, with the help of Dean Chaim Nissel, Dean of Students, and Active Minds. Dr. Ilana Barry of the YU Counseling Center served as a program advisor and provided training for the Active Minds volunteers. Both Dean Nissel and Dr. Barry did not respond to requests for comment.
Talia Schiff, co-president of Active Minds, describes the program as a continuation of Stomp Out the Stigma – the club’s annual event of student speakers discussing their experiences with mental illness and treatment. YU students will serve as mentors, rotating between groups of students throughout the grades, discussing what they had personally gone through and how they reached out for help.
Schiff says the goal is to expand Jonathan’s Fellowship to other high schools, adding that she hopes the program will continue the Active Minds mission of “opening up the [mental health] conversation..showing that it’s normal to talk about these things.”
Ms. Roth wrote she hopes Jonathan’s Fellowship will allow young people to be more open about their struggles. She noted that though progress has been made, many teenagers struggle in shame and silence, and “the younger an illness is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome.”
She says, “I am hoping that with an open honest discussion, in the presence of a college student who can serve as a role model, these high school students will feel relief, and will be able to approach a guidance counselor, a parent, a therapist with more openness and honesty. I hope that they will be less afraid to face their own illnesses, and be encouraged that they can learn to successfully manage them. Mostly, I hope that they will begin to understand that by following the example of openness of the YU student role models, and sharing their vulnerability in this way, that they are actually becoming stronger and moving forward on a self-healing path.”