Trigger Warning: mental health
In 2018, the American College Health Association published a shocking report about the mental wellbeing of college students, and the findings were scary, to say the least. Over 60 percent of students said they were plagued by “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year, while more than 40 percent reported feeling depressed to the point of barely functioning. Mental illness clearly affects millions of college students nationwide. Thus, it would be foolish to assume that students on our campus, our classmates—our friends—are exempt from such struggles.
While it’s certainly important to foster open and compassionate conversation surrounding mental health year-round, next week is nationally recognized as “Mental Illness Awareness Week.” It’s a time for experts, advocates, and survivors all around the country to speak up in hopes of educating the public and destigmatizing mental illness. I’ve thought a lot about this recent movement to—on a societal level—overcome some the taboo surrounding mental illness. I think this cultural moment is one that is timely, and beautiful, and deeply necessary. I’m thankful for it. With this being said, happy October. I hope this finds you well.
I have noticed one really clear message emerge as a result of this collective mission to de-stigmatize mental illness, and the message is this: “you aren’t less of a person for seeking help.” In other words, nobody should feel ashamed because they’re enduring a particularly taxing season or battling a disorder of any kind. Nor should they feel ashamed for finding support if they need it. In my personal opinion, this is absolutely true. 100%. But can I get real for a second?
Particularly recently, I’ve been feeling insecure, and wrestling with lots of questions about my own mental health. I’ve been plagued with troubling questions such as “does the fact that I take medication to stay focused in class invalidate my passions or achievements?” and “does my anxiety makes me less than those around me?” I know the answers in my head: “no, of course not.” I know these are lies. But sometimes, it’s really tempting to believe them.
The idea that getting help (whether that means going to therapy, getting a doctor’s prescription, or talking to someone I trust) doesn’t make me less of a person is something that I know—intellectually. But for some reason, I have great difficulty internalizing that knowledge. Simply stated, I know it’s true, but it often doesn’t feel that way. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. We’ll tell each other, “you are so strong,” and “it’s okay, everyone needs a little help sometimes,” and, “I’m proud of you for being such a fighter.” But sadly, we won’t say the same things to ourselves.
I’m not an expert when it comes to the topic of mental health, but I say all of that to make this point: Changing the societal stigma around mental health is deeply important and long overdue, but it will probably be meaningless if we don’t change the dialogues we have with ourselves. And honestly, that might be more difficult. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we reframe the way we think about our experiences and our conditions. We are not less, and we are not alone. Our battles don’t make us less courageous or capable people. In fact, quite the opposite.
It’s true that the institution of the Church doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to dealing with mental health (in fact, The Point published a fascinating article about this last semester). We need to be fiercely combative of all the damaging lies perpetuated by Christians about mental illness, particularly those that say mental illness is indicative of a weak faith. All this aside, I have found that my own personal faith has been instrumental in helping me sort out the way I view my personal struggles. Reflecting on the life of Christ gives me great hope, as I look forward to the day when all my own battles are finally resolved.
The theme of this year’s annual Torrey Bible Conference is “Incarnate.” The Christian faith believes that Jesus came to rescue God’s people from sin. God became man to reconcile all things to Himself. During His life, Jesus underwent every human emotion, even anxiety. In fact, He experienced unimaginable suffering—anxiety of the worst kind—when He was subjected to physical and spiritual separation from the Father upon taking on the sin of the world.
Therefore, we don’t serve a God who is distant from us in our times of trouble. He sympathizes with us, because He has literally been there too. Christian teaching says that, thanks to Jesus, we have hope that one day our fractured relationships with God and with those around us will be fully reconciled. What if this also means we can look forward to a restoration of even the messy relationships we have with ourselves?
I’m thankful that society at large is gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges that those who battle mental health illnesses face. I am thankful that some of these long-standing taboos are starting to crumble. I think our next goal ought to be embracing this spirit in our own personal lives.
My prayer for this campus during this time is that we would be as patient and affirming of ourselves as we are to the people around us—that we would lean into God and into each other in the difficult moments. I certainly don’t have all this figured out, but I’ll take my advice if you will too. So please ask for help if you need it; we all do sometimes. We truly can’t do this alone. God made us community-oriented for a reason. One last thing: I’m proud of you.
We’re in this together!
Tenacity: the quality or fact of continuing to exist; persistence.
Biola Counseling Center: (562)-903-4800
Spiritual Development: (562) 903-4874
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255