My mother, age 60, has depression and anxiety, and a family history of heart disease. Will exercise benefit her mental as well as her physical health? Does the Adventist Church value mental health as much as it does physical health?
Yes—supervised exercise prescribed by your mother’s physician will certainly help your mother. All individuals who exercise regularly improve their cardiovascular health. The really good news is that individuals with anxiety or depression who engage in physical activity achieve even greater cardiovascular benefits, as exercise lowers the increased stress-associated neurobiological activity (SNA) that accompanies anxiety and depression disorders.1
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it was predicted that mental health disorders would become the leading cause of disability. This did happen, and it’s been exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic during the past two years as a result of lockdowns, isolation, death, economic woes, increased addictive behaviors, and the struggle to find the “new normal.”
Yes, the Adventist Church prioritizes mental health issues and places emphasis on these. Jesus is the Master Physician and our pattern. The healing that Jesus performed addressed body, mind, and spirit. He healed physical maladies, freely forgave sin, and brought relief from guilt. Jesus recognized the vital interaction of body, mind, and spirit.
Through the Bible and the writings of Ellen White the Adventist Church has been blessed with an understanding of wholistic, multidimensional health and well-being. This includes physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, and relational health—none of which is in isolation. As we work through depression, anxiety, and health inequities and disparities, we try always to apply the best lifestyle practices.
In 2020 United Nations secretary-general António Guterres called for global action on mental health, reminding us that it’s one of the most neglected areas of health.2
Good mental health facilitates wholistic healthy behavior that helps keep us safe and well. During the pandemic, the mental health and well-being of whole societies have been severely affected and are a priority to be addressed urgently. A long-term upsurge in mental health problems is taking place, and we need to respond.
The Adventist Church acted in 2011 with the first global Adventist conference on mental health. The efforts continue with the COVID-19 Mental Health Initiative3 and the imminent launch of the mental health wellness program ReMindEd.4 We intentionally destigmatize mental health issues with thoughtful wording and open conversations on the topic. Support groups help combat isolation and encourage social connectedness, especially for the marginalized. Younger adults reach out to isolated older adults to reduce loneliness.
We do tend to focus on the measurable aspects of health: what we eat and drink. Let’s remember, however, there is no health without mental health! Adventists have long known this. Empowered by His Spirit, we should now live and teach it, wholistically making the difference, including in the areas of rest, exercise, trust in God, and an intentional approach to mental health and emotional well-being!
1 Hadil Zureigat, Shady Abohashem, Simran Grewal, et al., “Cardiovascular Benefit of Exercise Is Greater in Those With Anxiety and Depression” (American College of Cardiology, 2022, Session 1007-05).
2 United Nations secretary-general António Guterres on COVID-19 and the need for action on mental health, 2020, https://youtu.be/XLJlqcFYfeM.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.