22 Year-Old Author, Advocate, To Headline Annual Jewish Community Mental Health Conference

Sophie Riegel graduated from Duke University this past May, and it couldn’t come soon enough for her. As an author and speaker, Riegel has been talking to groups about mental health since she was in the 7th grade.

“I’ve been speaking professionally for years,” she said. “I’ve been, honestly, trying to get out of college so that I can finally work, and I’m really glad that I can finally do it full-time now because this is what I’ve been wanting to do for years.”

Riegel is the keynote speaker at this year’s Twin Cities Jewish Community 23rd Annual Mental Health Education Conference. The event is Sunday, Oct. 22 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Temple Israel. Breakout sessions this year will focus on youth and parents, navigating health care, harm reduction, aging and mental health, and LGBTQ mentorship, among others. The event is free and registration is available online.

The conference is conducted in partnership between Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis and Jewish Family Service of St. Paul.

“The power in the conference is that this one of the few spaces in world of mental health where there’s a learning component for professionals, parents, and people who receive services,” said Ruth Hampton Olkon, the CEO of JFS. “It’s the only space I’ve been in where everyone has a place. It’s for all of us and helps amplify what we want in our community. We all have a part to play in receiving and giving support.”

Riegel is the author of Don’t Tell Me To Relax: One Teen’s Journey to Survive Anxiety (and How You Can, Too), Overcoming Overthinking: 36 Ways to Tame Anxiety for Work, School, and Life, and “Go To Help: 31 Strategies to Offer, Ask For, and Accept Help – the latter two co-authored with here mother, Deborah Grayson Riegel. She speaks all over the country to share her message about mental health and has worked with large corporations, including Netflix, Nielsen, and Audible, as well as local organizations and schools. 

Riegel started speaking in middle school, as a response to being bullied about her OCD. 

“I was bullied pretty severely because of it,” she said. “I gave that presentation, and I just realized how much of an impact I can have when I am vulnerable and I share my experience. And when when I tell people like when you think of mental illness, this is not the face that you think of. Even when I think about mental illness, my face is not the face I think of because there’s so many stereotypes and even I am susceptible to them.”

Riegel said that her books are for both parents and teens, but in particular Don’t Tell Me To Relax has gotten positive feedback from both groups.

“I’ve had a lot of teens read it, and they all feel like ‘Oh my god, I can totally see myself in your story and I feel less alone,’” she said. “And then I have parents who read it and they say ‘I had no idea what my kid was going through. But now I have the language that I need to talk to them about these things.’”

Riegel is the youngest keynote speaker the conference has had, said JFCS CEO Judy Halper.

“Perhaps the pandemic neutralized or removed some of the stigma, but we’re talking about exceptional young people who are struggling and looking to cope and live your life,” Halper said. “It’s accessible to have someone younger speak. It normalizes it, which is what we wanted to do. We’re thrilled that she was available.”

Don’t Tell Me To Relax was Riegel’s first book, published in 2019 – during her senior year of high school. That timing posed significant challenges to Riegel, so much so that her publisher gave her one last chance to walk away before the book was released.

“I thought to myself, if I publish this book, what is it going to look like when college admissions officers Google my name and they see that I have a mental illness?” she said. “What is it going to look like later, when I’m looking for a job and want to get hired by someone? Is that all they see about me? Then I said to myself, if I don’t do this, no one’s going to do it.”