Improving Mental Health An Important Focus Of Adventist Health Ministries

General Conference

Improving Mental Health An Important Focus Of Adventist Health Ministries

Ministries | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Maryellen Hacko, ANN

In a year like 2021 with so many unprecedented struggles, mental health has been a focus of the General Conference’s (GC) Health Ministries department, as emphasised at the recent Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) conference on Friday, October 8.

GC associate director for Health Ministries Katia Reinert gave a live presentation about resilience, also highlighting the Youth Alive initiative the global church is engaging with to help combat growing mental health concerns among young people.

Beginning her talk, Reinert shared the importance of resilience as a means of combating physical and mental health concerns resulting from prolonged stress. 

“When we are exposed to stress and losses, there is a physiological response; a stress response that produces hormones that can increase our risk of disease,” she explained. “One of these is cortisol. What we see is that if there is a sustained release of cortisol, because of perceptions of stress or trauma, our blood pressure goes up, and our immune system and cardiovascular system are negatively impacted. In the brain, there are also changes. There is atrophy, and an impact on our emotions and how we respond.”

Following the recent 20-year commemoration of 9/11, Reinert highlighted how epidemiologists studied survivors and identified resilience as the main factor in common for those who were able to overcome and thrive following the event. Further studies indicated nine major factors for resilience, including: supportive relationships, altruism, positive emotions, cognitive flexibility, humour, acceptance, role models, healthy lifestyle, and faith.

“Those who were able to cope in a positive way had gratitude,” Reinert explained. “They were grateful in spite of everything happening. They were able to reframe the traumatic event by looking at things that people don’t normally see, using their values to guide them. Many exercised, they cared for their sleep. And spirituality and religion was critical. This was a study done by a secular journal and researchers, who pointed out how important it was to have faith and spirituality.”

Couching these findings within the context of the Adventist health message and beliefs, Reinert emphasised how even the three angels’ messages can help us become more resilient and therefore improve our health.

“We are called with a message of abundant health and hope. The three angels’ messages is actually a message of resilience; of faith and spirituality. This message impacts all these other factors for resilience too, if you think of it. In the ministry we do, we are trying to build resilience.”

Reinert then highlighted the important work of Youth Alive, a program forged from a partnership between multiple Adventist institutions and departments, including Health Ministries, Youth Ministries, Adventist Education, Family Ministries and Global Mission. It is designed to build resilience among teens and young adults by equipping them to make healthy choices, understand their gifts and purpose, and overcome emotional pain. 

“Many today are trapped, becoming enslaved by addictions such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography, gaming, media. Youth Alive focuses on nurturing relationships that build resilience against these at-risk behaviours that plague young people around the world,” the website reads.

“Youth Alive is what we do—building resilience among young people, since the launch of the mental health initiative last year,” Reinert emphasised.

Existing under the motto, “Healthy Youth Connected for Service” the comprehensive program offers conferences and camps, service and mission opportunities, local clubs that young people can join and be supported in, friendship meetings, and even an app and online classes, articles, books and blogs discussing topics related to all facets of health and wellbeing.

Importantly, Youth Alive has also created a COVID-19 Mental Health Initiative, which is aimed at counteracting isolation and loneliness, and establishing support structures. Through connections with existing media, including various books and digital resources created by the Adventist church, the website and app function as a hub where young people can access help, engage in self-development and build resilience.

“When you are resilient you demonstrate the persistent ability to bounce back, despite any adversity. This ability to cope in a positive way, to adapt, and to be successful in spite of any problems that come your way,” said Reinert during her presentation.

She finished with a quote from Ellen White’s Ministry of Healing (p472): “In the full light of day, and in hearing of the music of other voices, the caged bird will not sing the song that his master seeks to teach him. He learns a snatch of this, a trill of that, but never a separate and entire melody. But the master covers the cage, and places it where the bird will listen to the one song he is to sing. In the dark, he tries and tries again to sing that song until it is learned, and he breaks forth in perfect melody. Then the bird is brought forth, and ever after he can sing that song in the light. Thus, God deals with His children. He has a song to teach us, and when we have learned it amid the shadows of affliction we can sing it ever afterward.”

“I pray that we all may experience this learning of a song that God wants to teach us in the midst of chaos and crisis and that we may be agents facilitating the song God wants to teach them,” she concluded.

To access support and resources, or to initiate a Youth Alive program in your local church or Conference, please visit: https://youthaliveportal.org/