By: Rafael Saperstein  | 

Hundreds Listen to Students’ Mental Health Journeys at Stomp Out The Stigma

Hundreds of YU students, alumni and faculty packed into Lamport Auditorium on March 1 to attend the twelfth annual Stomp Out the Stigma event, hosted by YU’s Active Minds club. 

Consistently the highest-attended event of the year on the YU campus, Stomp Out the Stigma provides a platform for YU students to speak out about their struggles with mental illness and work to destigmatize reaching out for help in the Jewish community. Last year’s event was held over Zoom due to COVID-19 limitations.

To kick off the proceedings, Active Minds Co-President Sarina Hilowitz (SCW ‘22) introduced President Ari Berman as the opening speaker. Berman spoke about the power of a supportive community in dealing with suffering and the helplessness associated with mental illness. He expressed that although “sharing does not resolve the suffering, it spreads it. It helps ease the sense of loneliness” that is so easy to feel when dealing with mental illness. He added that “when we listen to someone else’s story, we are reminded, quite viscerally, that everyone is carrying something,” ending his speech with thanks for attending the event.

After Berman’s speech, Hilowitz returned to the podium to give an opening statement. In her statement, she emphasized the importance of creating a “more compassionate culture around mental health” and how the Stomp Out the Stigma event provides an “opportunity to speak openly about mental illness.” After thanking OSL Assistant Director Rabbi Herschel Hartz and the Counseling Center for their assistance in planning the event, she gave the floor to Miriam Bluth (SCW ‘24) to introduce Eli Sandhaus (YC ‘24), the first speaker of the night.

Sandhaus walked up to the stage as “Leave Me Alone” by NF played in the background. He opened up about his experiences with OCD with depressive tendencies, and how it influenced him throughout his life. As he was growing up, Sandhaus’s OCD manifested as unhealthy and obsessive rumination and influenced his responses to stressful situations throughout his childhood. Sandhaus told the story of his experience as a survivor of sexual assault and how it caused long-term damage to his mental health.

Eventually, through counseling, Sandhaus “began to accept [himself]” and now hopes to “educate and raise awareness about mental health.” Although he stated that he was “just getting started” in his battle with mental health, he showed how he has made significant progress in that battle and has a lot of hope for the future. At the end of his speech, he urged all victims of sexual assault to seek the help they need, and he called on the audience to be aware of how “insidious” and “hard to spot” mental illness can be. Going forward, Sandhaus sees a new beginning in his confrontation with mental illness, the difference being that “this time around, I won’t be alone.” 

Sruli Fruchter (YC ‘22) then came up to the stage to introduce the next speaker, Gabe Gross (YC ‘24). Gross described his struggles with depression and anxiety. He emphasized the isolating aspect of depression that creates a cycle of falling into destructive thought patterns, making it easier to cut oneself off and engage in a “constant battle with [oneself].” He stressed the importance of accepting support when needed, and not compromising on loving yourself and others to the fullest extent. Ending his speech, Gross highlighted the aspect of the Stomp Out the Stigma event that provides a “forum to be able to speak about our community.” He pointed out that the Jewish community has an obligation to care about mental health, to reach out to those suffering within our community and to “love for the sake of love.”

The final speaker, Shay Fishman (YC ‘23), was introduced by Josh Segal (YC ‘22). Fishman spoke about his battles with suicidal thoughts and depression, which began when he was a child. He noted how people struggling with depression “only have the occasional shot or two to ask for help,” otherwise suffering in silence, sometimes unbeknownst to those around them. Shay also shed light on the stigma surrounding receiving care for mental illness in a psychiatric ward, showing how he was there not because he was “crazy,” but because he was “deeply hurt” and in need of help. 

Through a strong familial support system and professional help, Fishman was able to reflect on his progress in dealing with mental illness. He has gone from “being torn apart” by depression and suicidal thoughts to being “ready to move forward” with a more robust mental health, having not had suicidal thoughts in years. Fishman ended by acknowledging those in the audience who may be suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts but may not feel confident enough to tell others, assuring them that it can get better and that it is important to get the help that they deserve regarding mental illness.

Closing remarks were made by Dr. Yael Muskat, director of the Counseling Center at YU. She thanked the faculty of the Counseling Center in attendance and emphasized that “strong mental health holds the key to true success,” urging all of the students struggling with their mental health to contact the Counseling Center and to get the professional help that has been highlighted throughout the night's speeches.

After the event wound down, students felt deeply moved and inspired by the speakers and their dedication to destigmatizing struggles with mental health. 

Jordan Stebbins (SSSB ‘24), who attended the event for the first time, reflected that “as a new student, [he] didn’t know what to expect going in” to Stomp Out the Stigma, but found himself inspired by “the bravery of the speakers” at what he called a “one-of-a-kind event.” 

Bluth, a member of the board of the Active Minds club, said that she “could not have imagined the impact this event has had on me and on all the students who attended. It’s one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed and I am extremely grateful that I got to be so involved in such an amazing cause and with such incredible people.” 

Photo Caption: Shay Fishman (YC ‘23) was the final speaker at Stomp Out the Stigma.

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University