Temple Grandin is quite an extraordinary individual. At 4 years of age she was diagnosed with “brain damage,” which was later identified as autism, and her mother was told that Temple would never learn to speak.
At the time autism was poorly understood, and treatments were nonexistent. With continued caring support from her family — and upon finding the right schools and teachers who believed in her abilities — Grandin flourished, despite tremendous obstacles. She learned to talk, and she went on to complete college and gain advanced degrees, bringing incredible innovation to her field of work. She is now a renowned expert lecturer on autism spectrum disorders, an accomplishment she credits to the supportive community that did not give up on her.
I first heard about Grandin while researching autism in the early 2000s, when there was heightened interest in the disorder and a strong push for more research and treatment methods. Much is still unknown about autism and other developmental disabilities, but it is very encouraging to see that many autistic individuals have fulfilling lives and relationships.
Today we face seemingly insurmountable issues with other conditions that involve brain function. The human brain is the most complex organ in our bodies and some say the most complex structure in the known universe. It can therefore be incredibly devastating when it doesn’t work as expected — and when there are few answers as to why.
In Counsels on Health Ellen White wrote: “Sickness of the mind prevails everywhere. Nine tenths of the diseases from which men suffer have their foundation here.”* While we can take this quote at face value, we also should dig deeper into her meaning. How did she define “sickness of the mind,” and what more can we learn about the “foundation”? What leads to the sickness? Can we prevent it? Is there hope for the sufferer?
For these reasons and more, North American Division Health Ministries is turning a laser focus on the topic of mental health and wellness. To launch this initiative, we are hosting a virtual, online mental health summit March 31 to April 3, 2022. We will hear from experts in the field about anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other mental illnesses. We will consider how trauma and addictions impact lives and what is involved on the road to recovery. We will learn about population-level factors that can impact mental well-being; wholistic approaches to healing, including the role of healthy spirituality; and much more. Continuing education credits will be available for health care practitioners, while practical trainings and certifications will equip church members to recognize mental health needs and to support the healing journey.
Yet that is only the beginning.
Through our mental health initiative, Adventist HealthyYOU: Restored, we are embracing the processes that God uses for the renewing of our minds. In the Creation story we can find evidence of the amazing mental capacities that God created in us. This gives us a biblical imperative to better understand the mind, how it functions, how to keep it healthy, how to improve its abilities, and how to restore it.
* Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1923), 324.