The Seventh-day Adventist educational system is the second largest in the world, dwarfed only by the Roman Catholic school system. As of June 2018, there are 5,915 primary schools with over 1.2 million students enrolled; there are 2,435 secondary schools worldwide with an enrollment of over 603,000 students. The North American Division (NAD) Office of Education alone coordinates with 1,049 schools consisting of 65,000 students in the U.S., Canada, and Bermuda. These are incredible numbers, and while we are blessed to be able to teach so many children about Christ in the educational system, the General Conference employs no mental health professionals in any of its schools.
In 2012, the CDC reported that one in seven U.S. children ages two to eight had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. Data also shows us that suicide is the leading cause of death among adolescents aged 12 to 17. Millions of children live with depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome, and countless other mental health issues. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that an “estimated 49.5% [of adolescents aged 13 to 18]” had a diagnosable mental disorder. All of these facts and statistics show that the Seventh-day Adventist school system has a duty to employ and place mental health professionals in its school systems for the sake of its children.
As the data shows, one in seven children under the age of eight have a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder, which means that more likely than not, over 171,000 children in our own system suffer from some disorder that may not be receiving the treatment that it could and should be. In the NAD alone, this means there are just under 10,000 students suffering in silence. My focus is primarily on primary and secondary schools as our universities more often than not do have a counseling center of some sort that students are able to go to if need be.
As John Gavin, chair of the Social Work Program at Washington Adventist University said, “Adventist psychiatrists, psychologists and physicians know first-hand the living nightmare that characterizes the existence of those experiencing depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, grief, addiction and other problems. They are the ones who bring hope and healing to those experiencing emotional distress.” Through advancements in research, technology, and data analysis, we are able to see more clearly the growing need for mental health services within our own institutions.
Among the options we have, one would be similar to the method in which the Adventist school system recruits its teachers, through its universities. Many Seventh-day Adventist universities have programs for students to become teachers, as well as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs). An education major at an Adventist university must complete a set amount of hours student teaching. In a similar fashion, aspiring mental health professions must complete a practicum, internship, and 3,000 hours of supervised counseling. If the Adventist system incorporated counselors and therapists into its schools, then in the same way that education majors essentially intern at their future place of work, mental health professionals could do the same.
Many of the students who attend Seventh-day Adventist schools are sent there as a way for their children to see Jesus. A good number of these children are only able to attend these schools through funding of their local church or sponsors who believe in them. With this in mind, counseling and therapy are currently more accessible to middle and upper-class individuals, either through their healthcare plan or out of pocket. The same cannot be said for families who are struggling to put their children through Adventist education. If counselors were integrated into these schools they’d be able to help these children and young adults in ways they may never be able to get otherwise.
I know this isn’t an easy idea, or something that can be implemented overnight. It’s probably a logistical nightmare, but we don’t serve Christ because it’s easy, we do it because it’s the right thing to do.
While some may wish to ignore what science and data has to show us, even the most devout Adventist must remember Ellen White’s words, “God is the author of science. Scientific research opens to the mind vast fields of thought and information, enabling us to see God in His created works.” If we ignore the fruition of the scientific tools we’ve been blessed with, and also ignore the direction in which that information points us, are we truly stewards of God’s teachings?
Hayden Scott is pursuing his Masters in Mental Health Counseling. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his wife, two dogs, cat, and soon to be baby girl.
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