Mental Wellness, Aging, and the Church

Mental Wellness and the Church

In the spring of 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. reported  a noticeable rise in the suicide rate over the recent decade for men in their late 50s (up by 50%) and women in their early 60s (up by 60%). There were several suggestions as to the reason for this increase. I’ve written about the underlying spiritual vacuum and consequence of lack of meaning facing our culture as a contributing factor in a blog post called A Time to Give Back… Not Give Up!.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported  on further research conducted by two Princeton economists relating to the plight of aging men in particular. They published their findings in a paper concerning this troubling trend and along with other researchers came to the following conclusion and observations:

“… rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.”

“This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”

“Only HIV/AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this.”

“Seldom have I felt as affected by a paper. It seems so sad.”

This Saturday, First Baptist Church in Vancouver is sponsoring a seminar on mental wellness and the church where a psychiatrist, a psychologist and myself will contribute to the content of the day and facilitate a dialogue together. We will focus on how we as individual Christians and churches can be more engaged in ministries with those seeking assistance and care for mental health concerns related particularly to aging and the later years of life. Most of our churches can access resources locally to host this type of seminar, and I invite you to contact me at ppearce@carey-edu.ca if you are interested.

We all experience a range of emotions (depression, anxiety, fears of aging and dementia) and concerns for providing adequate care our families in our daily lives. Our responses to them may inhibit our living fully into God’s intention for us. These concerns are not limited to a particular age in life, but can be more influential in the middle to later years as maturing adults. We will often try to deal privately in responding to them and rarely discover how the church can be a resource for wellness within the context of our life together as followers of Jesus.

Mental wellness is a topic currently giving us opportunities to respond with both a pastoral and a missional emphasis for those we serve in our churches and communities. Let’s talk about it!

Paul Pearce
About the author

Co-Director of CHAT, Centre for Healthy Aging and Transitions
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