[Photo Courtesy of the Health Ministries Department of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church]
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Maryellen Hacko, ANN

In response to the mental health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the global Seventh-day Adventist Church has created a mental health initiative and developed resources as part of their “Youth Alive” program, to help young people around the world.

Presenting on the importance of mental health at the recent Annual Council Meetings, Katia Reinert (PhD, CRNP), associate director of Health Ministries for the General Conference and global coordinator for Youth Alive, recently sat down with Adventist News Network to explain more about the mental health initiative.

“The main goal of Youth Alive is to build resilience among youth and young adults against at-risk behaviors,” explains Reinert. “The pandemic caused huge mental problems among youth, feelings of loneliness and depression, so we launched this new initiative to reach out church members and the community.”

Falling under the umbrella of Youth Alive, the initiative features mental health talks, an ambassadors program, a weekly newsletter, and resources including books, articles and videos that are free to access via their online portal. 

“You don’t have to be a mental health expert to get involved,” encourages Reinert. “We encourage pastors, elders, teachers, youth leaders, family ministries representatives, health leaders—anyone in a position of influence—to become ambassadors. This means creating conversations about mental health, preaching about it, sharing on social media the graphics and resources available on our portal.”

Although the program is accessible to anyone regardless of their education or experience, Reinert confirms that the resources are based on the latest mental health research and scientific evidence.

“The whole program is evidence-based,” she says. “And we are also intentional to include the role of faith and God in coping. If you watch our mental health talks, we talk openly about how spirituality can be helpful during mental health struggles and how God can be a source of hope. But that doesn’t negate the fact that medication and professional treatment is also needed sometimes. Prayer can be helpful in coping, but prayer alone isn’t going to cure depression or anxiety, just like it does not necessarily cure hypertension or diabetes. Spirituality is a strong element of the program, but we also recognize our role as individuals, and the important role of medical treatment.” 

A particularly valuable aspect of the initiative is the Youth Alive mental health talks, hosted by Krystal Gonzales, a student and Public Campus Ministries (PCM) leader in Puerto Rico, and Yusuph Shogholo, a student and PCM leader in Tanzania. Connecting with church members around the world, the videos cover important topics including depression and anxiety, healing emotional wounds, finding balance on social media, eating disorders, relationships and breakups, and self-esteem. Each episode is approximately half an hour in length and features interviews with skilled professionals, and young people who share their own personal experiences. 

“These talks are all in English, but obviously there are so many needs in different languages and contexts, too,” explains Reinert, who encourages individuals to be creative and adapt content of the videos and other resources into their own language, context and needs. 

“You could host a discussion at your church on the same topic or in a similar format to one of our programs!” she suggests. “We encourage ambassadors to create new resources to empower people in their local areas and reduce stigma on mental health where they are.”

 Recognizing that the Church has not always been understanding or accepting of mental illness although many efforts have been made since 2009 to raise awareness, a major priority for Reinert and the mental health initiative is to reduce stigma and provide an affirming environment, especially during this pandemic, for anyone struggling with mental health who feels like they can’t be vulnerable in a formal church setting.

“It’s a matter of creating a culture,” she explains. “We need to make it okay to talk about these things. We need to educate people that a mental health struggle is not a spiritual issue; it’s not a lack of faith. Mental health struggles are normal for us as human beings to deal with, especially in a pandemic where people have lost a lot over the past several months. We need to learn to treat mental health issues, anxiety and depression as any other disease.”

While numerous resources have been created for young people, Reinert emphasizes that resources are also being expanded to cater to a wider audience. “Youth Alive is primarily for youth and young adults, but these issues with mental health span across age groups. So, there are other resources being produced which will target adults as well.”

Speaking of the other resources available beyond the mental health initiative, Reinert explains that Mental Health First Aid is offered in most countries to help individuals recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness. “Leaders can attend online training and get equipped to help in this area,” she says. “And Youth Alive has other resources and courses on offer too, including an addiction prevention and recovery program and lifestyle health courses that you can access via the portal. In addition, a mental health program targeting all age groups called ReMinded, coordinated by Dr. Torben Bergland, should be launched in 2022.”

 To download free books and other resources on mental health, please visit the Youth Alive Portal: https://youthaliveportal.org/mentalhealth