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How to Do Post-Pandemic Mental Health Ministry - Adventist Review
The COVID-19 crisis may result in unexpected challenges … and favorable opportunities.
May 1, 2020By: Carlos Fayard and Belkis Archbold, for Inter-American Division News Many experts predict that a mental health pandemic will follow COVID19. Devora Kestel, director for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization (WHO), believes that the cumulative impact of the effects from the pandemic will be similar to those experienced in other catastrophes or even wars. One out every five individuals will be affected with anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems. The possible exacerbation of emotional health problems from being locked down and isolated for prolonged periods; fear of infection and emotional deprivation from social distancing; the cascading effect of the economic downturn resulting in jobs losses; the closing of businesses and retirement funds are all bound to generate a global mental health pandemic. While no one can be sure that a global mental health pandemic will happen, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as a church that believes in whole-person ministry, could now prepare to respond and minister to the needs of the communities we serve. Ellen G. White, one of the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers, guided the church to understand the importance of mental health in ministry. More than 100 years ago, she wrote, The relation that exists between the mind and the body is very intimate. When one is affected, the other sympathizes. The condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases from which men suffer are the result of mental depression. Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death. It is interesting that Ellen G. White highlighted depression as having such a pervasive impact on health and wellbeing. WHO has identified depression as the mental health condition with the most significant impact on individuals, families, and even the economy of entire communities. Until recently, the extent to which depression plays a causal role in many diseases was not known. Recent research published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry found that, indeed, depression has a causal role in many medical conditions, a previously unrecognized fact. Have we, as a community of faith, taken Whites vision seriously enough? Are we prepared to address this challenge? The mental health needs in communities around the world are high and very likely will increase in the near future. Adequate preparation requires that the church knows the how, what, and where of the response, as well as be aware of the potential pitfalls in its implementation. The what and where are intimately related, and thus they will be discussed together below, followed by the how, and the possible pitfalls involved in this type of ministry. The specific items in the list below have been implemented successfully in various parts of the Inter-American Division church region as well as other parts of the world. What and Where The church is blessed with an amazing system of local churches, schools, and medical facilities that, when working in synergy, can have a powerful impact on their communities. Imagine if churches were to do the following:
- health fairs with a focus on mental health
- spiritual leaders presenting seminars that teach sound biblical principles to strengthen character and build resilience
- schools looked after their vulnerable students
- health facilities thoughtfully integrated behavioral health into all services they do
- Be sure that whatever you do, you have credible professional support to refer people for treatment. Choose professionals that meet or surpass your current level of knowledge or skill. Running a seminar in your church, which you learned in a few days, can hurt the people you intend to serve. You can easily get in over your head.
- Check the credentials of the mental health professionals (church members or not) that may help you. You may be shocked to learn how many claim academic degrees they do not possess or that were obtained through non-accredited and questionable programs. Claiming to be a Christian is not always equivalent to having integrity.
- Avoid those mental health professionals with fuzzy definitions of spirituality. Some claim that it is the same to talk about "meaning in life as to be informed by biblical ideas. Some rely on mindfulness meditation and other Buddhist-based practices and claim it to be spiritual. Doing ministry in a Christian context ought to reflect a Christian identity. You may vary the degree of explicitness based on your audience, but professionals with fuzzy definitions tend to have a fuzzy identity.
- Never work alone. This ministry can be tough for your mental health. All and any of the ideas presented above should be carried out in cooperation with spiritual leaders, health professionals, and mental health providers. If you do not fall into any of these categories, there is a place for you. I have worked with lay leaders whose passion resulted in extraordinary ministry. Any initiative needs a champion. Waiting for pastors or other professionals to take the lead may lead to nowhere.