In the United States, approximately one out of every five people experiences mental health-related illness in any given year. In Colorado, a state-sponsored community needs assessment panel has identified mental health as the number one health priority. In fact, Colorado is fifth in the nation for mental illness and seventh for teen suicide risk. And yet, despite the high profile and prevalence of mental illness, a stigma remains with regard to mental health challenges. Adventist hospitals in Denver are committed to changing that.

“Adventist hospitals have always been committed to whole person care,” says Jim Feldbush, director of Mission and Ministry at Porter Adventist Hospital. “That means physical, mental and spiritual health. And while we specialize in the physical and even spiritual aspects of patient care, the mental health side of the equation, unfortunately, is often not addressed as it should be. But that’s something we’re actively working on.”

Healing through conversation

In recent weeks, community leaders and hospital administrators from around the Denver area have met to discuss the mental health challenges facing their community. One of the biggest issues is the fact that people don’t know how to talk about mental health. It’s usually not hard to talk about things like cholesterol or blood sugar, but when someone is dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, it’s not easy to bring that up in conversation.

“There is a decided hesitation to talk about depression or other types of mental health issues,” explains Feldbush. “We often don’t know what to say. We’re afraid it will require a significant investment of time and effort on our part.”

Feldbush explains that one of the biggest challenges for someone facing mental health issues is to find someone simply willing to listen—someone willing to care and to lend an ear.

Caring for our neighbors

Porter Adventist Hospital is one of only two Denver area hospitals with dedicated in-house mental health units. While there is a definite need for acute in-house care, the greater need is for both community members and health care providers to have the necessary tools to know how to recognize warning signs and offer assistance at early stages before a mental health situation becomes critical.

The hospital has started training programs entitled Mental Health First Aid. Classes are tailored for both adults and youth. The programs aren’t just for those currently facing mental health challenges, but also for anyone willing to be an agent for change.
“If we can help to break down the negative stigmas associated with this prevalent illness and facilitate conversations that help to save lives, we will have made a major difference,” says Dr. Eric Shadle, group director of Community Health at Porter.

Feldbush adds that this is not a short-term marketing effort or a way to increase visibility of the hospital. “It’s a community-wide, collaborative effort that is simply the right thing to do,” he says. “We are on the front end of trying to figure out how best to address these needs, and as Christians, we should be about caring for the emotional health of our neighbors. If we can help people realize that it’s okay to talk about depression, we will have made positive progress.”

For more information about how you can learn to talk more openly about mental illness, visit

This article was written by Mark Bond on behalf of the five Colorado Adventist hospital campuses that make up Rocky Mountain Adventist Health/Centura Health.