Baptist churches must work together and with other religious and civic organizations to have a positive impact on the mental illness pandemic that is destroying lives and communities around the world, a Jamaican psychologist said on the opening day of the Baptist World Alliance World Congress.
While international trends around depression, suicide and other signs of declining mental health are overwhelming, an educated and united church can make a difference in helping ease the suffering, Lisabeth Crossman said in a BWA seminar titled “Mental Health Challenges: A Silent Epidemic Affecting Churches and Communities.”
“We can learn from one another. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can look at best practices — things that are happening in other areas, within our own communities, in other churches, and we can collaborate,” said Crossman, who works for the Western Regional Health Authority in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Crossman came equipped with a daunting array of statistics and studies from institutions such as the World Health Organization, United Nations, Harvard University and other experts—all indicating that mental illness has become a global threat.
“Why all the excitement? When we look at the burden of mental disorders we have to be concerned. It is very significant. It is growing,” she said. “And it not only impacts on the individual’s health, but it impacts on social issues. It impacts on human rights and economics in all countries.”
Mental, neurological and substance abuse disorders currently make up 10% of the total global disease burden and 30% of the non-fatal disease burden, she said. “It has been estimated that mental illness accounts for 21.2% of years of life lived with disability worldwide. But a new analysis suggests mental illness may account for 32.4% of the burden.”
Globally, an estimated 264 million people are affected by depression while 45 million suffer from bipolar disorder. Another 20 million are affected by schizophrenia and 50 million suffer from dementia.
She cited a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders in the last decade.
And those numbers are going up, Crossman said. She cited a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders in the last decade with a $1 trillion annual impact on the global economy from depression and anxiety disorders alone.
“It’s quite alarming. We have to wake up,” she warned. “We have to pay attention because we have to look at the burden on our children and adolescents. It is very heart-rending because it affects children and adolescents very early in life.”
One in five of the world’s youth have some form of mental health condition, and half of all psychological disorders begin by age 14. The resulting deterioration of social and psychological well-being negatively impacts families and other relationships, communities, education and the workforce, she said. “We also know that early onset impairs individuals cognitively, and that in itself can be very significant.”
And mental illness can be fatal, Crossman added. Worldwide, suicide has become the second leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 29, with 800,000 people taking their own lives annually. “Global rates have increased over 60% in the last 45 years. One person commits suicide every 40 seconds.”
“With 100 people in your church on Sunday morning, 26 of them will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness this year.”
The world’s collective mental health challenges have reached pandemic proportions, and Baptists must be among those who take notice of its manifestations in their communities, she said. “The conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age are all social determinants of health. If we look at these, we can see their influence on mental illness rates.”
Once that discernment process is completed, churches can plan advocacy strategies, ministries and collaborative efforts to address issues such as discrimination, exposure to violence, food and housing insecurity, poverty, pollution and other factors that detract from mental health, Crossman said.
Communities of faith also should seek to become safe havens for those suffering in silence due to social pressures and stigmas around mental illness, she added. Churches can hold mental health fairs and education campaigns and launch nonprofits dedicated to serving those in need.
“With 100 people in your church on Sunday morning, 26 of them will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness this year,” she said. “These are things many of our churches are engaged in, but we need to look at how we can do better.”