Eager to share the struggle she has overcome and empower others, Miriam Ament (’89) has made it her mission to combat the stigma of mental illness in the Jewish community. Thanks to her passion and the help of a committed board—made up mostly of Academy alumni—Ament’s organization, No Shame On U, is already making an impact in the Chicago Jewish community.
Ament struggled with depression as a teen and hit a low in her early 30s, when she sought hospital treatment. At the time, there was little public discussion about mental illness, and when she needed help more than ever, Ament felt alienated. One close friend went so far as to tell her that she only wants to be friends when Ament is happy. The two never spoke again.
In an interview with WGN, Ament said, “You can’t find people to talk about it because there’s such a stigma.”
But, talking is a necessary part of healing, says Ament. Those who feel ashamed about mental illness are less likely to seek professional help. More than one in four Americans over 18 lives with a diagnosable mental illness, and the majority of them don’t receive treatment.
“Mental health should be part of the conversation just like any physical illness, but with mental health, the conversation rarely gets started,” says Ament.
Now that she’s in a better place, Ament left her career at law firm to dedicate her profession to educating the Jewish community about mental illness. Her first step was a fellowship with JCC’s PresenTense, a Jewish entrepreneur program that fosters social change.
Since launching No Shame On U in the summer 2014, more than 17,000 people follow the organization’s Facebook page, and Ament receives inquiries everyday. Her purpose is to refer people to the help and resources they need. She also hopes to educate community members about how to better support those with illness and help normalize the mental health conversation so no one is ashamed to get help. Ultimately, she hopes her efforts will save lives.
Joining Ament on the No Shame On U board are alumni: Becky Adelberg (’96), Manager of JCC 20s & 30s and JCC PresenTense Chicago; Nathan Benditzson (’89), Esq., Director of Student & Community Engagement at Metro Hillel; David Forman (’88), Bassist/Songwriter at David Forman Project; Shifra Kolsky (’89), VP External Reporting & Accounting Policy at Discover Financial; and Heidi Kramer (‘89), M.D., Pediatrician.
More than one out of every 100 deaths is by suicide, and that is more people than those who die in car accidents. And more than 80 percent of Americans diagnosed with clinical depression are not getting any treatment for it. Studies have shown that one of the key barriers to people seeking treatment is the stigma associated with mental health. With the help of No Shame On U, that barrier will no longer be quite so great in Chicago’s Jewish community.
No Shame On U will hold their inaugural event on November 7 at the Mayer Kaplan JCC, featuring Kevin Briggs. For more information or tickets, go to Eventbrite.