Emotional problems are amongst the most challenging and pervasive difficulties faced by our world today. In the church, there is still progress to be made in understanding the role of emotional health and abolishing the stigma of emotional imbalance.

In October, the Seventh-day Adventist Church will hold its first international conference on "Emotional Health & Wellness." I urge members, pastors and administrators to attend and consider their approach to the issues of mental health and depression among their workers.

Too often, God-fearing people tell those suffering from depression or other emotional difficulties that they just need to trust God, read the Bible more, exercise more and eat more healthfully. While these are very important and necessary for someone who has a major emotional challenge, there needs to be an approach where the grace of Jesus is reflected with an understanding of emotional health. It's inappropriate and potentially dangerous to just tell people to throw their pills away or stop seeing a counselor when they really need the assistance.

Worldwide an estimated 450 million people have a psychiatric disorder, including 121 million people with depression, 200 million with alcohol dependence, 37 million with dementia, and 24 million with schizophrenia, according to figures from the World Health Organization. Five out of the 10 leading causes of disability around the world are the result of major forms of emotional distress. These conditions account for a significant financial and social burdens on individuals, families and nations.

Indeed, the pain of emotional distress can be grave, to the point of loss of life through suicide. Mental conditions can often aggravate medical disorders and complicate their treatment and final outcome.

The Seventh-day Adventist church has a major commitment to alleviating emotional stress, and its spiritual message has brought hope and a new life to many around the world. Many of the denomination's hospitals provide mental health services, and the last few years have seen an explosion of educational programs to train professionals equipped to deliver mental health services.

In Latin American alone, there are about 1,000 students enrolled in psychology degrees at Adventist universities, which will turn out primarily counselors and therapists. Robust prevention programs launched by the Women's Ministries and Family Ministries departments give a new opportunity to thousands every week.

Still, more can be done to strengthen our ministry:

First, resource-scarce nations do not allocate enough funding to the prevention or treatment of emotional distress. Our church has embraced a "whole-person" approach, meaning that we are interested in the physical, spiritual and emotional well-being of those that come to our health institutions. We should see that we do so everywhere.

Second, we could apply biblical truths in a more systematic and integrated way in all our educational efforts to see that the "healing ministry of Jesus" is fully realized. More help for those who suffer from emotional problems could come through the active ministry of the graduates of Adventist universities.

Third, we should work toward a "blended ministries" approach, in which educational, health and local church ministries team up to address the enormous challenges faced by the communities that surround us, and increasingly, those found within our own families.

We have taken a blended ministries approach in organizing this conference, which is sponsored by the church's departments of Health, Education, Family Ministries, Women's Ministries and Chaplaincy.

Additionally, the conference will include a special track for church leaders and administrators. Within the rank of our church there are many who suffer emotional isolation and distress, and the entire church -- from the folks in the pews to those in leadership -- needs to fully appreciate the difficulties faced by many in our church family. As a psychologist who has worked with clergy for many years, I have come to appreciate the burden church employees have to carry and the impact it has on their families.

The church offers a wonderful opportunity to be a conduit of the grace of Christ in the community. Hopefully churches will be havens of acceptance as opposed to courts of judgment for those who struggle with issues of mental health.

I believe that by the concerted effort of our church family, humbly guided by the Holy Spirit and the Word, we can contribute to healing the world.

--Dr. Carlos Fayard is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, assistant director of the Seventh-day Adventist world church's Health Ministries Department, and principal organizer of the Emotional Health & Wellness conference. For more information, visit

globalemotionalhealth.org
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