In my work as a psychiatrist I met many patients and heard their stories—stories of pain, stories of suffering, stories of struggles, stories of abuse, stories of neglect, stories of being broken people in broken relationships in a broken world.
The greatest mystery often was not the reasons why they were struggling and perhaps contemplating giving up on life. Often, what amazed me was that they had not given up already. I was impressed that despite all the pain and challenges, they still pressed on, that the will to live was stronger than the desire to give up. I have never met anyone who truly wanted to die, but I have met many who were not sure there was any way of escaping the pains of life other than by suicide. As a church, we should be there to comfort the suffering and help them find life paths worth walking.
If you met one of my patients on the street or in my waiting room, you would find that most of them look just like you and me. And most of them are just like you and me. Mental health challenges do not afflict “them”; they afflict us. Mental health disorders and symptoms are a normal part of living in a sinful world. We are living in a world we were not created for, and that makes us susceptible to struggles and hurt.
We may never know who is suffering unless we talk with one another about it. The ultimate cure for mental health challenges is heaven. But while we wait for it, the church should be a safe place where people can find comfort, hope, and healing. As a church, we are in a unique position to support people who are suffering mentally. Through comprehensive health ministry we can embrace people and their whole existence—physical, mental, social, and spiritual.
Our programs—Celebrations, Youth Alive, Journey to Wholeness, Gateway to Wholeness, and the upcoming MindWell—are well suited to support and increase mental resilience. As the World Mental Health Day approaches (October 10) with its theme “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World,” we challenge you to take the opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of mental health in your local church.
Torben Bergland, MD, is Associate Health Ministries Director at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, MD, USA.