Open Mine Eyes: A Call for an Expanded View of Mental Health in Seventh-day Adventism

Abstract by Barbara Couden Hernandez

Throughout Scripture people have clung to narratives that emerged from their understanding of prophecy, personal experience or fear about God’s providential but incomprehensible leading. In 2023, we find ourselves in similar circumstances: clinging to a monocular interpretation of mental illness that conceptualizes mental illness in the context of demonic activity, dietary imbalance or sinfulness, and that omits the significant contributions of evidence-based advances in neurobiology and psychological research. Adventists often have difficulty reconciling a belief system that focuses on eschatology, religious minority status, behavioral decorum, and the priority of theological precision, with more fluid concepts pertaining to mental illness such as dialectical thinking and neurobiological and contextual influences on human behavior. Our clergy often serve as first responders for parishioners with mental health, family and emotional challenges. Failure to understand mental illness themselves can contribute to stigma and ignorance about the effectiveness of evidence-based treatment approaches and lead to underutilization of critical resources.

This presentation will include a brief overview of Ellen White’s writings about mental health, and will address the interplay of lived theology on mental illness manifestations, mental resilience, the role of racial and societal trauma, and early contexts that contribute to symptomatology. A model will be presented to illustrate how clergy, church leadership and parishioners can consider mental health at the personal, congregational and organizational levels. Implications for clergy, church leadership and parishioner education will be given.