Torben Bergland, MD, associate health ministries director for the Adventist world church speaks to dozens of church administrators and health leaders during Inter-America’s Health Summit in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Jan. 22-25, 2020.  [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

January 28, 2020 | Punta Cana, Dominican Republic | Nigel Coke/ IAD News Staff

Dr. Torben Bergland, MD, health ministries associate director for the Adventist world church, challenged Adventist administrators and health leaders to enforce zero tolerance towards domestic violence and sexual abuse in the church, as this is a major threat to mental health and well-being.

“What is detrimental to mental health is exposure to violence, neglect and abuse which is everywhere,” said Dr. Bergland “Inside the homes, places that should be safe, there is violence, neglect and abuse. These are things as a church that we need to pay attention to. It’s not acceptable.”

“As a church we must have zero tolerance for domestic violence and sexual abuse. This is one of the biggest health challenges and health threats that we have, and this is all around the world, nowhere is exempt from it,” he said.

Bergland’s charge was made during a presentation on depression on day three of a Health Summit hosted by the Inter-American Division in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, January 22-25. Attendees included church administrators and health ministry directors from across Inter-America.

Dr. Bergland speaks to health leaders during one of his presentations on depression on Jan. 23, 2020.  [Photo: Nigel Coke/IAD]

Depression can affect anyone—even a person who appears to live in relatively ideal circumstances, Dr. Bergland explained. It is twice as common in women than men.

There are several factors that can play a role in depression:

  • Biochemistry: Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.
  • Genetics: Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.
  • Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.

Environmental factors: Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.

With more than 264 million people of all ages being affected by depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Bergland explained that “depression is a part of being human. It’s a common response to the brokenness of this world. It is an illness that affects the quality of life and the ability to function. People sometimes think of depression only as extreme sadness; however, depression is a complex state of mind often characterized by hopelessness, self-loathing, isolation, anxiety, sadness, guilt, shame, and emptiness.”

Typical symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

According to the WHO, between 76 percent and 85 percent of people in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment for their disorder.  Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, lack of trained health-care providers, social stigma associated with mental disorders and inaccurate assessment. In countries of all income levels, people who are depressed are often not correctly diagnosed, and others who do not have the disorder are too often misdiagnosed and prescribed antidepressants.

Bergland believes that one of the challenges which has affected effective treatment of depression is that within religious communities there has been skepticism towards psychology.

“Traditionally in the history of psychology there has been some antagonism between religion and psychology and because of this many Christian have become resistant and skeptical of seeking help for mental issues,” said Bergland.

Spiritual Judgement

Also, on the spiritual side of things, Bergland opined that there are Christians who believe that persons cannot be saved if they commit suicide.

“I think that whenever someone commits suicide, God knows how much pain there is to it. God knows the history. God knows and understands mental health and the dysfunction of the mind better than any psychiatrist. I think that whenever someone gives up on life, it pains God more than anyone else. He is not angry with the individual, but He is angry with sin. So I am not to judge who will be saved and who will be lost. I don’t believe suicide is an unforgiveable sin. We must always remember that God is a compassionate God who loves mankind, and I believe his heart in a special way goes out to those who suffer.”

“There is so much that I have learned about depression from this presentation,” said Carla Sanchez, from Belize. “I know now that it can affect anyone of us and so we don’t need to be ashamed of it,” said Sanchez. She understands that it is  sometimes more about the actions and not the words that will help to understand when someone is going through a depression, she added. “We must be less judgmental of persons with depression.”

“Depression can be treated, but treatment doesn’t guarantee full recovery. We need to be more compassionate to persons suffering from depression…persons in our church and the community,” Bergland added.

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