Hundreds Expected For Annual Mental Health Education Conference

Laurie Kramer saw the death of Barbara Schneider on June 12, 2000, when she was shot by police during a confrontation in a mental health crisis call, as a window to start a conversation about mental health in the Jewish community. With the help of Jerry Waldman at Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Minneapolis and Burt Garr of the St. Paul JCC, the Mental Health Education Conference started in 2001.

This year is the 18th edition “Hope, Humor and Healing – Finding Light in Dark Places,” will be held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at Temple Israel (2323 Fremont Ave. S., Minneapolis). The event, which is free and open to people of all faiths and spiritualities, will feature a keynote address from John Moe, host of the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression. More than 600 people are expected to attend.

“People are willing now to talk about their own situations, and I don’t think that was true when we started,” said Kramer of the event which is now a joint program of JFCS and Jewish Family Service in St. Paul. “We had some that would talk about own history, but now, people are coming forward more.”

Amy Weiss, the community services director for JFCS, said the timing of this year’s event is important to the Jewish community.

“We’ve had a number of losses in the community this year to suicide and mental health-related issues,” Weiss said. “The good news is that people are talking more. The goal of the conference is to reduce the stigma and we’ve come a long way.”

This year will be Kramer’s last as the conference coordinator. She and her husband, Joel, started the local news site MinnPost in 2007, and she scaled back some of the other programs she ran during the course of the year – but hung onto the conference.

“I knew I had to cut back on the other programs,” she said. “In the process of that, the two family service agencies agreed that it would have a home under their auspices.”

This year’s conference has 28 workshops in two different sessions after lunch. Kramer cited two timely sessions, “Media Fatigue: Staying informed without feeling overwhelmed,” and “Teen Girls and Social Media – Finding a balance.”

“There’s so much interesting work out there now on social media and how it impacts people in general,” said Leah Persky, the family life education program manager who is presenting the latter of the topics. “Teens as a subset of that, and then how teen boys and girls differently use media and the different impacts of that. On the balance, there are good things that can come out of it.”

Overall, Kramer said that she believes the conference has played a positive role in how people perceive mental health.

“People see hundreds (at the conference); people they know, but didn’t know had challenges in their family,” she said. “Many more are not just coping but living full, productive lives.”