By Janine Crowley Haynes
A crowd gathered at Congregation B’nai Yisrael in Armonk on Wednesday to attend a mental health awareness multimedia program put together by Isabella Yallof (12). It also happened to be her Mitzvah project. Isabella decided to focus on mental health because she experienced depression at the young age of 8. She was also moved by the recent losses to suicide, Miles Applebaum and Madison Holleran. Isabella decided to honor their memory with her project. Miles’ mother, Shari Applebaum, happens to be Isabella’s JID teacher at Congregation B’nai Yisrael.
No doubt, it’s been a difficult road for the Applebaum family, but Shari Applebaum fully supported her students’s Mitzvah project, knowing how vital it is to address mental health concerns in the community. “I felt honored to be part of Isabella’s Mitzvah project….I have to believe there’s a silver lining with a new life purpose,” says Shari Applebaum. “I can’t bring Miles back, but I am determined to share openly and through my own experience shed light on what parents can do to stay fully informed and actively involved in their child’s treatment.”
The program mainly focused on educating the audience on the topic of depression in children and teens. Yet, Isabella chose to do it in a unique way. In between snippets of helpful information on mental health concerns, she kept it uplifting with creative performances by other talented, young people in the community. From a keyboard rendition of Rustles of Spring, to guitar solos and duos, to gymnastic and interpretive dance performances, Isabella managed to keep the attention of the audience, mainly made up of young teens and parents.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Jennifer Powell-Ludner, spoke directly to the importance of opening up the discussion, not just between parents and children, but between friends. “If you see something, say something,” states Dr. Powell-Ludner. “However difficult it might be because you think you might be betraying a trust, if you feel a friend is in trouble, talk to an adult.” Dr. Powell-Lunder also noted that changes in behavior or a drop in grades could be a red flag. In addition, symptoms of mental illness can be exhibited differently in teens than in adults. “The No. 1 symptom is irritability,” says Dr. Powell-Ludner.
So what makes this Mitzvah project worthy of attention? Quite simply, we’ve got teens talking to other teens about a hush, hush topic without shame or embarrassment. Equally impressive was the collaborative efforts from Isabella’s peers who participated in the program. Communication is the first step in raising awareness and dismantling the stigma surrounding mental illness. Equipping our children with information on mental health issues will help to break down the wall of silence and create more compassionate, supportive relationships between parents, children, and their friends.
“I got better with the support of my parents, friends, and therapy. Now I’m back to the crazy, happy girl that everyone knows me to be,” Isabella says with a smile and without the slightest bit of shame. Although Isabella is only turning 13 next month, she said that she’d like to help other children in a mental health capacity when she gets older. For now, she is doing her part to send a ripple into the community to get young people talking about it in a productive, positive way.
Janine Crowley Haynes, Chappaqua resident and author of My Kind of Crazy: Living in a Bipolar World
I see you left the sky sitting there like a love lost in the crowd.
I want you all but I just can’t tell you.
I’m a malformation on the brink of extinction
and evolution into the eye of the beholder which beauty stems from.
Beauty all around me.
But I can’t touch it.
I can’t hold it in my arms.
I’m a bystander.
–Excerpt from a poem written Miles Applebaum