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Linda Burger with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Learning The Language of Mental Health: Linda Burger

Rockville, Maryland, April 16 – The genuine care and concern in Linda Burger’s voice left the Spring 2019 RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows with a feeling of coming home after a long journey. Indeed, she personifies her objective: “I want to offer [people] a place where it’s okay” to not be okay.

The Jewish Family Services of Houston

On February 22, the Fellows had the privilege to listen to our Treasurer, Linda Burger, on stigma surrounding mental health conditions. The CEO of Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Houston, Burger provided each Fellow with a folder containing extensive resources and information about the JFS Mental Health Programs. Suicide prevention and aftercare are the two main focuses of the program. Prevention services include age-specific emotional health programs, mental health first aid, individual and family counseling, meditation, and suicide prevention and protocol training. Grief and bereavement services, along with support groups and an annual memorial service, are available as aftercare for family members and friends whose loved ones have died by suicide.

Erasing Stigma About Mental Conditions

Though a tough topic to tackle, Burger led the dialogue with grace and wisdom. She shared with the Fellows that her motivation for transforming and focusing on the JFS Mental Health Program began when in 2015 seven people in her Jewish community completed suicide. As she stated in the We Want to Talk About Your Mental Health and Wellbeing pamphlet, “[The Program is] among the many voices speaking openly about your mind and your mental health so that the stigma of caring for yourself, your family, and friends will finally end.” She even helped erase any and all internalized stigmas the Fellows consciously or unconsciously held about mental health conditions. Allowing a natural and candid flow of personal and familial anecdotes, the guest speaker presentation quickly turned into a heart-to-heart bonding experience for everyone involved.

Language is Important

However, having discussions on mental health is just the first step. The Program’s slogan is “Let’s Talk About It,” but Burger and the Fellows took it further and considered how the specific vernacular used in discussions shape perceptions and attitudes on every topic from masculinity to disability to mental health. The teacher became the student when Burger asked the Fellows how to improve the materials from a disability standpoint. She received feedback on changing wording to “person-first” language in a few places in the packets. Proponents of this type of language argue that by putting the word “person” before the disability (as in “person born with spina bifida”), it helps the perceiver humanize and relate to the person with disabilities.

Burger brought an afternoon of learning, caring, and relationship building, one that each person in attendance will not soon forget. Talking about mental health conditions and suicide can be terrifying, awkward, and uncomfortable at best. But, as she taught us, bringing these topics to light saves lives. So, be a Linda Burger in someone’s life.


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. This spring, 15 Fellows had the opportunity to learn from a variety of guest speakers. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.



Meet the Author

Cami Howe

Cami Howe co-founded an on-campus club called “The Disabled Student Alliance,” which promoted self-advocacy and fought against ableism and created a community of students of all abilities. She plans to pursue a doctorate degree in Social Psychology.

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