JF&CS program offers mental health support

Social worker Michael Faccini was hired to run the Jewish Community Mental Health Care Management Program, a new JF&CS program funded by Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

Jewish Family & Children’s Services has launched a new program to better connect local Jews suffering from a mental illness with medical care and other resources.

The nonprofit received funding from Jewish Federation of St. Louis and has hired Michael Faccini, a social worker, to run the the Jewish Community Mental Health Care Management Program.  

“There have been a lot of recent youth suicides and overdoses in the Jewish community,” said Faccini. “And there are challenges that make it hard for people to get help, specifically some parts of the Jewish community that have more of a stigma with mental illness.”

In response, local rabbis and Jewish community professionals have increased their efforts in recent years to address mental health issues. 

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That includes a session earlier this year at the Jewish Community Center near Creve Coeur titled, “Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness,” led by Rabbi James Stone Goodman and Rabbi Susan Talve. It featured both mental healthcare providers and people struggling with mental illness and a collaboration among a number of different congregations for a mental health awareness Shabbat. 

Faccini has started meeting with rabbis to connect with people who may have reached out to clergy but have not received medical treatment. 

“Some rabbis have said, ‘I think this person would benefit,’ and then they get me in contact with them,” said Faccini. “A lot of congregations are very concerned about young adult and adolescent anxiety and depression.”

According to a recent study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, the number of children and adolescents admitted to children’s hospitals for thoughts of suicide or self-harm has doubled in the last decade. In addition, there are the people who are addicted to opiods in what has been described as a nationwide epidemic. 

And, Faccini said, there are “congregations that have people who have very visible signs of mental illness and have dealt with the challenge of: Yes, we want them here. Yes, it’s valuable for them to be here, but we also have to balance other people’s feelings of safety and security.”

In one case, Faccini connected with a Jewish woman who has been seeking a psychiatrist but had not been able to find one who accepts Medicaid. That can be difficult in St. Louis, where there is a dearth of psychiatrists and patients can often spend two months or more on waiting lists, according to news reports. 

But Faccini said he was able to find a psychiatrist and make an appointment for the woman, who had suicidal thoughts. 

She has to find “new housing very soon because she is about to lose a significant portion of her income. Even just having someone say, ‘We can figure this out,’ has really helped her thoughts of suicide,” Faccini said.

He also helped complete a Medicaid application with a person who has a physical disability, severe attention-deficit disorder and suffers from depression. He otherwise would have soon lost his insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

“He was very disorganized, and even with me helping him, it took more than six hours to fill out the application,” said Faccini. “There is no way he could have done that on his own.”

Rabbi Jim Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth, who has been one of the people spearheading the St. Louis Rabbinical Association’s mental health effort, said this initiative will “specifically help members of our congregation and the community-at-large because we need trained and dedicated professionals who have the time and resources to” address mental health issues.

“The more resources that our community directs towards addressing mental illness and supporting individuals in our community who are living with and struggling with mental illness, the better everybody will be,” said Bennett. 

People who are Jewish or live in a Jewish household are eligible for assistance through the program. Faccini can be reached at 314-812-9307.