Courtesy Photo / Sheridan Wiles
David O. Mackay, an American educator in the 1950’s, once said “the most important of life’s battles is the one we fight daily in the silent chambers of the soul.”
Nowhere is this sentiment more true than on a college campus.
The American Journal of Psychotherapy conducted a study over the increase of mental health problems among college students during a 10-year period.
The study consisted of 155,026 students from 196 campuses. Results showed the percentage of lifetime diagnoses increased, going from 22 percent to 36 percent, and the levels of depression and suicidality increased as well.
In broad terms, this means mental health issues among college students increases more than the non- student population.
At the very least, academic and social stresses exacerbates existing issues and can instigate new ones. In fact, the American Psychological Association also completed a study where they expressed concern over a worrying trend.
According to the article, “ninety-five percent of college counseling center directors surveyed said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern in their center or on campus.” As many as seventy percent of directors believe the number of students with severe psychological problems on their campus has increased in the past year.
Former Oklahoma Baptist student Vivian Bigler said she has struggles with different forms of mental illness since she could remember; it start- ed as anxiety and then com- pounded into depression as she began her junior year of high school.
Upon coming to OBU, Bigler said she did everything she could to monitor her emotional health during her time in college, from taking medication to seeking counseling.
However, her sophomore year was a difficult season for her.
“It came down to continuing to isolate myself; I kept distancing myself, and I start- ed to not want to exist any- more,” she said.
To keep herself safe, the best decision for Bigler was to move back home where her support system is and get the help she needed to control her anxiety/depression.
She said her social anxiety caused her to withdraw and her depression kept her isolated. All of that was compounded by the academic goals she had set for herself. Bigler said because she experienced that isolated loneliness herself, she now encourages others to be self-aware and seek help.
“Reach out to a least one person; tell someone you are struggling,” she said. “Don’t do it alone; it makes dealing with mental illness so much harder.”
Bigler’s depression seemed to be linked to her anxiety, the correlation of which is researched by Anxiety and Depression Association of America. A recent article suggested many people experience anxiety first before being diagnosed with depression. There is nothing to suggest that one necessarily causes the other, but many study’s participants did not a stressful event early in their lives.
However, there are those who just struggle with one or the other, according to the APA, 41.6 percent of college students suffer from anxiety.
Among those college students is junior human health performance major Brooklynn James—someone who is hesitant to label her struggles as anxiety, but knows stress impacts her socially and academically.
James said when she is feeling exceptionally anxious, many people mistake her agitation for rudeness.
“Not a lot of people understand how to be around me when I do go through anxiety,” she said. And that can cause even more isolation.
As a college student and athlete James said she handles her anxiety in a variety of ways.
“I pray a lot, journal and take time to work through what I am anxious about,” she said.
Nobody wants or asks to have a mental illness, she said. Having a mental illness is nobody’s fault either. To that end, she had some advice to offer others struggling right now alone.
“Give yourself a break and try to refrain from speaking negatively about yourself,” she said. “You are going to have those moments where you do break down, but that’s not a sign of weakness; you are just tired of carrying everything you are dealing with.”
Is it possible Christians experience greater anxiety and depression after diagnoses? One student said she was shocked when a church friend suggest- ed her depression was caused by insufficient prayer and fading faith. She said she could not understand why she couldn’t rely on Christ and her ongoing treatment.
According to an article in “Relevant,” “[mental health issues are] not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. And chief of all, it’s not a choice. Asking someone to ‘try’ not being depressed is tantamount to asking someone who’s been shot to try and stop bleeding.” The author, Brandon Peach, went on to say believers can trust in Christ and still treat their mental health.
“Cue the record scratch for any Christian regard- ing matters of healing. Having faith in God’s ability to heal is hugely important, and personal faith can help ease depression. But to deny medical or psychiatric treatment to someone suffering from mental illness is really no different than denying them to someone with a physical illness. The difference be- tween the two is that the former is invisible.”
Mental illness is not a sin, and scripture does not provide quick, easy answers, Peach said.
“A true examination of depression and anxiety in the Bible shows the existential dread that accompanies the illnesses instead of an easy out, one-and- done antidote. God’s hand isn’t always apparent. As Dan Blazer pointed out in ‘Christianity Today,’ ‘most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, ‘I am forgotten by them as though I were dead.’ Severe depression is often beyond description. Rather than prescribing a bit of a verse divorced from its context, a better strategy is to look at those instances of mental suffering along with the Church body and to offer comfort in the fact that even the saints struggle.”
OBU dose have affordable, high- quality therapy for individuals, couples, families of the OBU and greater Shawnee community.
The university website offers more information: “The Kemp Marriage and Family Therapy clinic is an educational, training facility whose services are provided by graduate therapists under faculty super- vision in the Marriage and Family Therapy program.
For more information or to request an appointment, please contact the Kemp Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic at 405.585.4530. The MFT Clinic Staff will gather general information about you and your household. An initial appointment will be scheduled, and the MFT Clinic Staff will work with you to answer any questions you may have.
Please note that the Kemp MFT Clinic is not an emergency service, hotline or crisis center. If you are in crisis or are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, such as uncontrollable feelings about hurting yourself or others, call 911 or go to your local hospital emergency room.”