Mental Health and Higher Ed
People are most at risk of developing serious mental illnesses between the ages of 18 and 24. How can we, as Christians, respond?
3 min. read
September 30, 2016

Picture this: Coffee in hand, you line up outside of the gym where you’ll take your exam. Your classmates are quietly catching up, but you can’t keep your mind quiet long enough to look your classmates in the eye. Hundreds of anxiety-stricken thoughts are racing through your brain. You sit down in the gym for your exam, and you feel as if you’re sitting in rows of blank faces, completely unrecognizable to you. The professor’s exam instructions are muffled out by the storm of anxiety taking over your whole body and mind.

Can you sense the toll on your relationships and on your learning?

At any age, we can experience poor mental health, but our signs and symptoms will vary by age. In our teens and twenties, we are more likely to develop mental health problems, like schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and eating disorders, says Victor Schwartz, medical director at the Jed Foundation. We’re most at risk of developing serious mental illnesses between the ages of 18 and 24, the same age range of most Redeemer students.

Just like their peers, Redeemer students grapple with unclear futures and feel the pressure of life-altering decisions. When moving into residence or signing a lease off-campus, students are leaving their previous support systems.

“Giving space for the questions, reflecting them back, speaking words of empathy… and finding ways to empower are all spiritual tasks.”

One-third of the students surveyed in a 2013 U.S. study had, within the past year, “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function”. Almost half of the 41,847 undergraduate and graduate participants said that their academic life—studies, supervisors and peers—had been “very difficult to handle.”

Redeemer Student Life staff and Hamilton mental health professionals work together to help students face university life’s joy and sorrow head-on. Shalem Mental Health Network provides students with up to four free counseling sessions with qualified Christian counselors. The St. Joseph’s Hospital Mobile Mental Health Team comes to Redeemer on Mondays, providing sessions for students with a clinical therapist, a substance use counselor, a family educator or a youth mentor. Students learn about mental health through workshops, support groups, Mental Health First Aid and the Mental Health Awareness Weeks.

Christian values, Scripture and prayer guide Redeemer’s approach to mental health. We tailor spiritual care to the student in front of us. A student in the midst of a mental health struggle may want prayer, or they may not. A student may ask “How can I be a Christian if I’m depressed—does that mean I don’t believe God loves me?” Giving space for the questions, reflecting them back, speaking words of empathy to assure them that they are not alone and finding ways to empower are all spiritual tasks, grounded in Christ’s redeeming love.

We believe that every student is created in God’s image, and we believe that we are all on a journey with mental health, striving to become more like Christ in that area of our lives. When we pray for Redeemer students, we remember that God is above and below, before and behind us wherever the path may lead.

This article was co-written by Dr. Karen Cornies, who at the time of writing served as Redeemer’s dean of students, and Selena Wikkerink, a fourth-year psychology and English student who served as the mental health program coordinator in the summer of 2016.

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