As we move into this season of Advent, a time for preparation and anticipation of the birth of Jesus, we do so with reflections of hope, peace, joy, and love. At the same time, the news is full of stories detailing the national mental health crisis. The statistics are staggering – such as 41% of 76,000 surveyed college students reported symptoms of depression and 36% experienced anxiety, nearly 50,000 people died by suicide in the US in 2022 (up 2.6% from 2021), and a 40% increase from 2009 to 2019 of high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
As you are called to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and love your neighbor as yourself just as Christ loves, one can’t turn a blind eye to this crisis. As Wesleyan people, we are called to pursue a life of social holiness. To love those that we encounter. God created us to be relational beings – to be social and to be in community with one another. Therefore as disciples of Christ, neighbors to the people who are hurting, and people who call themselves Wesleyans, we must be agents of social holiness.
The church used to be the leading change makers. We used to be the ones who built hospitals when too many people didn’t have the care they needed. We used to be the ones who built schools and colleges to provide more learning opportunities for a broader range of people. Too often we shy away from “touchy subjects” or topics that might be too controversial for a church setting. Friends, we can no longer leave this up to everyone else to address. The mental health crisis was exacerbated by the pandemic. No community is immune to the effects of this crisis. As agents of social holiness, we, as the church and as disciples of Jesus, must help find solutions and offer hope and love to our neighbors suffering with mental illness.
As the church, I realize we don’t have all the answers. We aren’t healthcare professionals. But, we can be the convener of conversations. We can offer community. We can offer love, support, and hope. Dr. Jerome Adams argued that the country can’t completely treat our way out of the problem, “since only 20% of health is actually addressed in a doctor’s office. The rest of what impacts human health, including mental health, is what happens in communities. The other 80% happens in communities that are connected, that are supportive of women and minorities, that have childcare, that have good educational opportunities, that have a good paying job, or both. And I think we need to really focus on building those stronger communities”
Wow! So often we believe there is nothing we can do to address the mental health crisis unless we are healthcare providers. But according to Adams, the church as a whole and we as individual disciples can have a huge impact on 80% of health outcomes! Doesn’t the community Adams describes sound exactly like the type of community that the church is meant to be? Maybe the church isn’t always everything like what Adams described, but even if the church could be 75% or even half of that type of community, imagine what kind of impact the church could make on reversing this mental health crisis!
Current Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy painted a beautiful picture of hope and love with this summary, “I think we’re actually more grounded in the core values of kindness and generosity, of service and friendship. I think that’s what we want. A world fueled by love is a world where we’re kind to each other, where we’re generous. It’s a world where we value friendships,” he said. “We heal through the love that we give and the love that we receive. And when you realize that, you realize that we’re all healers, and this is a time that the world needs more healers.”
Yes, Dr. Murthy, indeed! Doctors Adams and Murthy, both acclaimed medical doctors, proclaim the monumental impact a loving community can have on addressing the mental health crisis in our country. In this season of Advent, may we reflect on the abundant life of Jesus marked by love, peace, joy, and the hope of this remarkable healer who called us to follow Him and transform the world.
If your church is looking for new ways to love your neighbors, check out how TheTable and the Children’s Table offer community-building opportunities.