Brad Smith is a licensed psychologist and founding Director of Belhaven University's Institute for International Care and Counsel. Brad's focus is on mobilizing, training, and networking resources for global mental health and trauma needs especially among the poor. As the Lausanne Catalyst for Global Mental Health and Trauma, he desires to see the church respond to care for mental health as an essential part of mission.
So what brings Brad as a psychologist to care about the environment? He sees the environment as intricately connected with how people hope or despair, how they think about the future, or about their identities as a people. To care for the whole person we need to care for their environment.
Paul Dzubinski and Steven Spicer host this edition of the Creation Care Missions Podcast. Below is the full text of talk that Brad Smith gave at the Creation Care at the Frontiers of Mission conference.
It's a pleasure to be here and to talk about two emerging areas, two relatively new areas, and how they go together in terms of global priorities for the church: creation care and mental health. When I worked at World Vision and things were moving really fast, we used to say, "It's kind of like taking a picture of a moving train from a moving train." So it's a little bit like that. And because of that, I want to take a couple of minutes in the beginning here just to lay some groundwork, particularly around how I think about the connection between creation care and mental health.
Slide: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Old Testament prophets called shalom…
In the Bible shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.” – Cornelius Plantinga
This is the fundamental biblical principle of shalom. The big-picture of what God wants to do in the world and this idea, this great quote from Cornelius Plantinga, that really captures the Old Testament vision of the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation, injustice, fulfillment, and delight. It's what's called shalom. And so as we think about creation care and mental health, and health and community, mental and many other things, this is what we're looking at.
Slide: “Genesis 1:27-28: The Cultural Mandate
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
As has already been discussed, the cultural mandate, God's plan for how this fulfillment of shalom takes place and the human element of that as we are created in God's image.
And this great quote by Dick Staub describes what it means to be created in God's image: "To be fully human is to fully reflect God's creative, spiritual, intelligent, communicative, relational, moral and purposeful capacities, and to do so holistically and synergistically." So we see all of this works together and particularly to reflect on what mental health means—this term that can be so hard to define—and to view this in terms of what it means to be whole in God's image.
Slide: “Holistic mission is mission oriented towards the satisfaction of basic human needs, including the need of God, but also the need of food, love, housing, clothes, physical and mental health, and a sense of human dignity.” – Padilla, Rene (2004) Holistic Mission. The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 2004 Forum, Issue Group 4.
This quote for me, as the Lausanne catalyst for Global Mental Health and Trauma, is one of the most important quotes of all the Lausanne documents. It's the first-time that I found where mental health was included in the definition of holistic mission, and for our group, which started back in 2008, there was a sense in which this was really an affirmation of the role that mental health plays in holistic mission.
Global Mental Health
So, what is mental health? It's more than just feeling good, it's more than the absence of problems like depression and anxiety. It's this well-being where we realize our own abilities, we can cope with normal stresses, which is important as we think about the topic today, we can work product productively and fruitfully, and make a contribution and connect within community. Mental health has often been thought of as kind of a secondary priority. When the really important stuff is dealt with, then we'll think about the fact that some people may have a sad day, now and then, or may be stressed. But in Mississippi, my new home for three years, what I hear over and over again is, "I'm too blessed to be stressed." Doesn't quite work that way, but how profound the impact of mental problems is in the global perspective has become clear particularly in the past 15 years. There is need where we see that almost half-a-billion people are affected by mental illness worldwide. This is serious and has serious implications. Depression is the number one cause of disability worldwide. Depression is one of the one or two top reasons why people miss work worldwide. So, it's more than just having a bad day or being a little bit stressed.
Slide: Consequences of Mental Illness
So here we see a list of the consequences of mental illness, both in terms of mortality, people dying younger, and morbidity, illness and other problems. To add on to the challenge is the existing treatment gap that there is for mental health problems worldwide. Where in developing countries up to ninety percent of people receive no treatment for mental health problems, in the U.S. the figure is fifty percent. So as we've been thinking about mental health and how to address this on a global level—because mental health problems are not just relative to the Western world—we found that we need new techniques, new strategies. Often when we think about mental health problems, we think about what I did for twenty years, which was individual psychotherapy. The old strategies, thinking about individual therapy, Christian counseling, as the way to address the mental health problems around the world. But that will never be sufficient. There will never be enough Christian counseling centers, or Christian counselors around the world.
So the global mental health movement is looking in a new direction which looks more like this. This is a picture of Saul and Pilar Cruz from Mexico City who, Saul passed a couple of years ago, very sadly. But Saul and Pilar had Armonia Ministries. Armonia meaning shalom. And this is a picture of a group from a community mental health center, a community development center which had a large part of mental health built in, integrated into the work that they were doing in their community. This new approach—the old approach being clinical mental health treatment, one-on-one small groups—the new approach in global mental health is called population mental health, where we look at how we can help broad groups of people and not just [individual] treatment. Not just treatment, but a whole continuum of care which opens up the possibility, when we think about support, prevention, promotion, treatment, yes, and recovery. But this broader model of addressing mental health problems really gets us into opening up where the church can play a key role in this.
Mental Health and Creation Care
So talking now about, thinking about, mental health and creation care. First of all, the notion that climate change is a threat to mental health.
And in this diagram, we see on the left circle of different climate events that can happen, some long-term, some very acute, and how they affect people. They affect people in the three areas that we're talking about in this Ted talk—in terms of community, health, and mental health. It's helpful to think about the psychological impacts in two main categories. First of all, the impacts can be from acute events like natural disasters and floods and storms and so on, but there can also be psychological effects in longer-term events and these psychological impacts are often indirect. There's some mediating variable in-between the long-term event. Things like changing temperatures, rising sea levels. So, for acute mental health events, we see things like PTSD, anxiety, substance abuse, depression, we see the statistics of what the impact was from Hurricane Katrina. For chronic mental health impacts, things like long-term hot severe weather, we see increases in these factors: aggression and violence, more mental health emergencies, so on so forth. These kinds of mental health problems that kind of creep up on the community.
And then there is a new term called Eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety, is when people watch change happening in their environment and begin to feel loss, and anticipate loss, and they worry about the future. So a member of the Inuit Tribe, noticing the melting of the sea ice, had this to say: "We are people of the sea ice. If there is no more ice now, how can we be people of the sea ice?" A sense of sadness and loss of identity. A version of Eco-identity.
So some things that I want to say about this, is first of all we see that climate change can impact psychological wellness, but there's another more positive way to look at this, which is the idea that positive mental health helps to equip us, and prepare us, and free us to engage in creation care. The less that we are caught up in the sense of denial, the less we are caught up in anxiety about the future, the less we feel isolated by not being able to participate in constructive political debate, we become freer to become engaged in creation care.
Another positive development is the idea that the good things that we do as we engage to be more environmentally aware, these things also have a positive impact on our psychological health. So not only does it help our physical health to walk to work and to ride our bikes but that affects our mental health as well. Green spaces, all of these ideas, alternative energy sources, lifestyles that involve these elements, have been shown to increase positive mental health.
Conclusion: Resilience from Christian Hope and Community
Slide: “Resilience—‘The ability of a person (or a community) to cope with, grow through, and transcend adversity’” – Hobfoll, Stevens & Zalta, 2015
And just as we close, I want to talk about the idea of resilience. As we see changes in our world and as there are challenging environmental contexts, what can we as a church do? What can we as Christian organizations do to help people, to equip people, to be able to sustain their sense of hope, to continue to live healthy lives, continue to be able to cope with some of the difficult changes that happen? And so the idea of meaning, the meaning that we have from the gospel, the understanding that we can have from a biblical perspective on what is happening in our world and that we have a God that loves us, and cares for us, and cares for his creation—that sense of meaning contributes to a sense of resilience in communities. The kind of connectedness that we can have with one another, with friends and family, and our church brothers and sisters, also contributes to resilience. And the fact that we can work together. That we can engage in creation care activities based on our connection in Christ, and can give as a gift, as a witness to the communities that we are in a sense of hope and connectedness in the face of very challenging circumstances. Thank you.