On May 22, Jewish candidate and mental health advocate Ellyn Jeager garnered 64 percent of the vote to win the Democratic primary in Georgia State Senate District 56, which included part of Sandy Springs. She will face Republican John Albers in the general election November 6.
From Long Island, N.Y., Jeager has been a resident of Georgia for 41 years. She is the previous director of public policy and advocacy for Mental Health America of Georgia. She has been visiting classrooms around the state as an instructor for Mental Health First Aid for youth and adults.
Often, participants came to her after class and shared personal stories about their struggles with their mental and physical well-being. They expressed problems that ranged from suicide in the family to Alzheimer’s and access to health insurance or medical assistance. She described these stories as “emotional, gut-wrenching and infuriating,” and was “constantly moved and heartbroken.”
Jeager has spent 30 years listening to people’s stories and said it has been “very humbling, very educational and has helped me grow.”
She said she would like to see steps taken for a more “mentally and physically healthy state.”
The solution is early mental health intervention geared towards youth as well as the expansion of Medicaid, Jeager said. “Some kids feel isolated [and] angry. There are always signs that let you know there is a problem.” She urges public awareness about mental health. “We do everything in crisis mode. We get the best results when we start it early.”
Jeager is an advocate for the use of mental health and substance abuse courts to reduce the rate of juvenile incarceration. These courts focus less on punishment during the sentencing. “I don’t think people should be locked up for exhibiting signs of their illness,” Jeager said.
She is concerned about the lack of accessibility to health care for communities living in rural Georgia.
“Hospitals are closing. Half of the counties don’t have a pediatrician.” When there is a medical emergency, it may be 100s of miles away, she said.
In her mid 70s, Jeager decided to run for the Senate because “policy is something I’m very interested in.”
About incumbent John Albers, she said, “We are very, very different.”
She envisions change to make Georgia to be “welcoming and progressive” and wants to see public policy “equal, not just for individual communities, but for everybody.”
Jeager values the diversity in Georgia. “I enjoy when I hear many languages spoken; it’s a much stronger and more interesting state.”
A first-generation American, her parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants. She is an active member of Congregation Or Hadash in Sandy Springs.
As a Jew, Jeager says, she has an instilled sense of responsibility to help others. “I cannot keep talking about what has to change if I’m not willing to be a part of the change.”