TT he Health Ministries department for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, introduced a new initiative during the Annual Council session on October 8, addressing the global crisis of mental illness, especially among young people. This presentation comes at a significant time ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10.
Peter Landless, director of Health Ministries for the global Adventist Church, shares that at the turn of the 21stcentury, “the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted a global, relentless increase in mental health illness to become the leading cause of disability in the world. This prediction was fulfilled prematurely around 2012-2013. Today, depression is, globally, the leading cause of disability.”
Associate director for Health Ministries Torben Bergland adds: “Every year about 800,000 people globally die from suicide. That is about one suicide per 40 seconds. For every suicide, there may be more than 20 who attempt suicide.” Bergland also says that there are 1,000,000,000 suffering from mental illness worldwide. These statistics are staggering.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has only made things more difficult. According to Landless, “COVID-19 produced a tsunami of mental health issues including depression, addictions and suicide—especially in young people.” This can be attributed to fear of the virus, anxiety and loneliness stemming from isolation.
Katia Reinert, associate director of Health Ministries, says that “among all vulnerable groups, young people seem to be struggling the most. In the age group 18-24, 75 percent reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. And 25 percent reported seriously having considered suicide in the last 30 days. That is a lot of suffering.”
The General Conference Health Ministries department is partnering with Family Ministries, Youth Ministries and the Education Department to promote the COVID-19 Mental Health Initiative, raising awareness and calling the Church to action on this issue. Elaine Oliver, co-director of Family Ministries, says that “this initiative is not about what the GC will do. It’s about what we ALL will do.”
Bergland hopes that this will be personally adopted by each church, that congregations will build teams locally to work on it, and that strategies will be developed and implemented for local context in home territories. “I think this is a great mission opportunity but it is also a nurture and retention issue. The age group we are focusing on is, unfortunately, the age group when many leave the church. If we don’t provide support and care to them, they will go somewhere else to look for it, ” he says.
“We need to act, and we need to act now. This must be a matter of utmost urgency for every leader, every pastor, every educator, every parent, every friend. We are in the midst of a mental health pandemic,” Bergland says. “We have the opportunity now to minister to the present needs of this world. If we want to reach people with present and eternal truths, we must also care for and minister to their present needs. That’s what Jesus did; let us do it, too. Now. Together.”
In addition to the COVID-19 initiative, the Health Ministries Department is working on a program calledReminded that will launch next year. Bergland says it’s already in production and the first program will be a short series on depression. Later next year will follow a series on anxiety and trauma issues. “Beyond that, we plan to cover various other topics, including mental health and lifestyle, and mental health and spirituality. It will be based on videos and short films, and be available to individual use or use in groups,” he says.
For more information on the COVID-19 Mental Health Initiative, including a promotional video for your church, social media posts, online webinars, interviews and panel discussions, visit youthaliveportal.org/mentalhealth. You can also follow the hashtag #COVID19MHI on social media.