In a world where mental illness is increasing, the question arises: how can the church best respond?
This issue was addressed indirectly as part of a larger discussion that took place at the “Optimize Your Brain” event in downtown Toronto on February 23 and 24. Throughout the presentation, featured speaker Dr. Neil Nedley spoke to the idea that it is possible to counteract depression by enhancing emotional intelligence.
Nedley is the founder and medical director of the Nedley Depression and Recovery Programs, which he first engineered in the U.S. He has also authored several books on mental health, including Proof Positive and Depression: The Way Out. The Weimar Institute, where Nedley serves as president, offers a 10-day residential treatment program in Weimar, California.
Two years earlier, the Community Depression Recovery Program (DRP) was first formed by a downtown Toronto taskforce made up of key church members and pastors, which eventually led to the staging of the 2018 weekend presentation.
According to Pastor Jakov Bibulovic, director of evangelism with the Ontario Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, the initiative was birthed out of an urgent need to target outreach efforts at Toronto community members. “I started praying and thinking, ‘What can be done for downtown Toronto?’” he said. “Then, after (recognizing) the many different needs, we identified how we can fulfill the needs of mental health among professionals, which is mostly depression and anxiety.”
Following up on Nedley’s expressed desire to be a part of a public outreach event during his time in Canada (he was already slotted to speak on February 25 at the Centres of Influence summit), the evangelism department of the Ontario Conference collaborated with the Compassion and Health Ministries departments to present the opportunity to former graduates of various community depression recovery programs. Students from the Adventist Christian Fellowship chapter at Ryerson University volunteered on the Friday evening, while church members from the Berea Seventh-Day Adventist Church volunteered on the Saturday afternoon.
Though the Friday session got off to a late start, Nedley was quick to engage his audience once it began by having them work on naming the nine diagnostic symptoms of depression. In the end, some of the listed symptoms included: apathy, sleep disturbances, morbid thoughts, lack of focus/concentration, irritability, fatigue and feelings of worthlessness. According to Nedley, a manifestation of just five of these in an individual points to a diagnosis of major depression.
On the Saturday morning, Nedley presented at Berea SDA Church on the topic of “God’s Love and Emotional Intelligence.” In the afternoon, he provided further insights into emotional health by looking at some of the nutritional factors that can potentially contribute to depression. The latter session was held at St. Michael’s Hospital.
In the lead-up to Nedley’s morning talk, Patricia Lord-Rouston, a former patient of the Weimar Institute, sang “How Great Thou Art” and shared part of her story. Rouston completed a 10-day depression recovery program in April 2017 after an extended period in which she battled depression and anxiety. One year later, she is a changed woman.
“After (I went through) the program, my anxiety started to wane and I started to sense God’s presence more than ever,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my God, I wouldn’t be here.”
Lillian Shibata-Salley, a DRP director in Toronto, said the DRP outreach project presents a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues. Aside from her involvement with the community DRP sessions, Salley also facilitates sessions at the Toronto Japanese SDA church, which she regularly attends. DRP “is a great way to reach out and to introduce people to our church,” she said. “It’s a safe haven (where people can know) that there is help if they need it.”
Now, more than ever, Bibulovic believes the conversation on mental health is pertinent for the church, simply because mental illness is everywhere. “You can visibly see people with mental illnesses just walking on the streets knocking on the windows of your cars,” said Bibulovic. “We don’t talk about that, but I think we should.”
Photos: Howard Bailey
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