General Conference

Women’s Ministries Seeks to Remove Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Issues

The department has been working hard to create awareness, training and solutions to bring hope and healing to women globally

Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Beth Thomas

The Women’s Ministries department at the Seventh-day Adventist Church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, has been working hard to create awareness, actions, training and solutions to bring hope and healing to women globally. They’ve identified six major challenge issues that affect women and children—one of which is health threats, both physical and emotional. 

A brochure designed by the department shares that “women face many threats to health, such as social inequalities, economic deprivation, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, disability-related discrimination, gender discrimination and political instability. Being born female in some cultures exposes women to a devalued social status, and reduced access to basic necessities such as food, health care and education.”

A major player threatening women and children’s health today comes as a result of the issues mentioned above—mental illness. We are in a mental health crisis situation as a society. Every day, the news features fresh commentaries on children reaching a breaking point, medical professionals contemplating suicide, or others not receiving the help they need to combat the feelings of hopelessness and despair that threaten to overwhelm them. 

The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it unexpected side effects: depression, anxiety and host of mental health concerns. In fact, recently the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized that “depression is one of the leading causes of disability. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions. Despite progress in some countries, people with mental health conditions often experience severe human rights violations, discrimination, and stigma.”

Thinking Well, Living Well

The WHO is not alone in its assessment. As early as 2014, Women’s Ministries leaders at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists have addressed mental health issues in a series of 10 seminars, “Thinking Well, Living Well,” presented at the Global Health Congress in Geneva, Switzerland. These seminars were designed to educate, encourage open and compassionate dialogue about mental health issues, and hopefully remove some of the stigma surrounding the topic. 

Organizers said, “Many members in the Seventh-day Adventist Church suffer silently, live in pain and shame, and sometimes leave the church because they feel God has forsaken them. The time has come for the Church to become educated and to recognize when members need help.” 

The “Thinking Well, Living Well” mental health training resource has since equipped over 4,000 women in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean region to not only evaluate and care for their own mental well-being, but to reach out to others experiencing the same thing. 

Women’s Ministries leaders in the East-Central Africa territory saw the benefit of “Thinking Well, Living Well” when they used the resource during a women-led two-week evangelistic series in the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 27 women were baptized as a result and found hope, healing and restoration in Jesus. 

In Israel, Women’s Ministries used the “Thinking Well, Living Well” materials for a 10-night outreach to women in their region. Between 45-50 attended every night. “One participant who had suffered from depression testified of her gratefulness because the seminar was instrumental in beginning the process of overcoming depression. An non-church member talked about her loneliness caused by being away from her family and how the seminar had given her strength to trust and depend on God more.”

Event coordinators remarked that after the nightly presentations, “the veil of doubts, uncertainties, bitterness and hurt slowly opened up into acceptance and forgiveness.” This is exactly what Women’s Ministries hopes to achieve! Removing the stigma and pain of mental health illness and replacing it with courage and transformation.

What Can You Do?

There are many hurting in your community. What steps can you take to reach them with compassion and care? Heather-Dawn Small, Women’s Ministries director, and Raquel Arrais, Women’s Ministries associate director, share some advice: 

“Research the health needs of women in your church and local community. Work with your Health Ministries department to address these needs through relevant programs and health seminars. Use the expertise of health professionals in your church. Schedule health training updates for volunteers and church members to enable them to participate in health programs and to minister effectively to the sick. Use local health agencies where appropriate to assist you in running health programs in your church and community.”

Poor health, whether it be physical or mental, undermines women's ability to be a fully productive participant in God's work. You can be the conduit through which Christ can reach the hurting and lost with His love. 

For more information, please visit women.adventist.org. A direct link to the mental health resource can be found here: https://women.adventist.org/thinking-well-living-well. All of the powerpoint presentations and informational brochures are free and available to download.

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