Adventist to Walk Length of
New Zealand in Anti-Suicide Bid
World church plans conference addressing emotional health
BY PABLO LILLO, South Pacific Division Record
A lay member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in New Zealand is on a 1,250 mile (2,012-kilometer) walking journey, the length of the country, to raise awareness about suicide, an often taboo subject, he said.
Karl Taaffe, from the Ilam Seventh-day Adventist Church in Christchurch, began his Dare2Hope initiative after losing a cousin to suicide.
His journey began in Bluff on the South Island of New Zealand and will end at Cape Reinga on the North Island. He walks an average of 18 to 25 miles (30 to 40 kilometers) a day and will spend about 75 days on the road.
“My journey has been full of blessings as I’ve connected with so many people, many who’ve been suicidal. They’ve greatly encouraged me to continue to the end,” Taaffe said.
Taaffe, 31, said he’s talked in the streets, churches, and community halls about suicide. “I didn’t realize how big an issue it really is. We haven’t met a person yet who hasn’t known someone who committed suicide.”
After a small-town radio station interview, several residents came to the studio to talk with Taaffe about their experiences of having lost loved ones to suicide.
About 10 people in New Zealand commit suicide every week, according to the Office of the Chief Coroner. In 2009 the figure was 541 suicides, more than those killed in car accidents. Of those, 401 were males and 140 were females. That’s approximately one out of every 7,000 New Zealanders taking their lives each year.
Taaffe said in December 2007 the tragic reality of suicide struck home. “My 17-year-old cousin took her life, leaving my family and a community devastated,” he said. “I’m sure many can relate to my experience and have asked, ‘What could have been done?’ ”
Health experts say untreated depression is often a leading cause of suicide.
“Although suicide is very difficult to predict, a profound sense of hopelessness and helplessness pervades the mental attitude of the person, and likelihood is increased when the person is not receiving adequate treatment,” said Carlos Fayard, an assistant director of the Adventist Church’s Health Ministries Department and an associate professor of psychiatry at Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
Fayard said depression may be the result of such factors as medical conditions, genetic vulnerability, and external stressors, such as a serious loss, complications from the use of mind-altering substances, or a feeling that “there is no way out” of a financial predicament.
The Adventist Church next October will address mental health issues in an international conference entitled Emotional Health and Wholeness: A Biblical Worldview in Practice.
“[Our church] has proclaimed for many years that the goals of education should be the harmonious development of the physical, mental, spiritual, and social dimensions in the human experience . . . and yet issues related to emotional health have lagged behind,” said Fayard, the conference’s organizer.
“Local churches, schools, clinics, and hospitals could bring about healing by developing programs that are mindful of the blessings found in God’s Word, and reaching out to those in need of emotional healing where they serve, while at the same time remaining on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge and ‘best practice’ models of service delivery,” Fayard said.
In New Zealand, Paul Rankin, health ministries director of the Adventist Church’s New Zealand Pacific Union Conference, said he supports mental health awareness programs and has committed US$373 (NZ$500) in support of Taaffe’s walk across the nation. He said he sees Dare2Hope as an important ministry for those who see no hope in life.
Taaffe is scheduled to complete his walk on January 28. For more information on his journey, as well as resources on mental health, visit dare2hope.co.nz.