Many times in the Bible it says that God will always be there through every trial, yet that may be hard to remember if you are a Christian who is also one out of every five college students that struggle with a mental disorder.
In the past five years, mental health on college campuses has become an increasingly important issue, and the Center for Collegiate Mental Health reports that there has been a 38% increase in students seeking counseling.
However, there are concerns over whether there is still a negative stigma associated with mental illness, especially on a large Christian campus like Liberty University.
“It has kind of been difficult to create this network on a Christian campus,” said Sabrina Grohowski, who is the Liberty University chapter president for the National Alliance for Mental Health, “From my experience, a lot of people are coming from areas where there was a stigma with mental health and Christianity. Just because you have a mental illness does not mean it is because of sin and you can pray it away. A lot of people come to this campus with this mentality and we want to spread awareness that just because you are dealing with this, it does not mean you’re a bad Christian.”
This stigma is something Liberty’s administration is striving to fight by providing various resources like:
- Student Counseling Services, which provides free counseling, group sessions and self-help guides
- NAMI, that focuses on mental health education and support group events
- Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered group support system based on the Sermon on the Mount
- Speak Up, an anti-bullying and assault campaign in partnership with the Title IX office.
Timothy Johnson, a junior at Liberty University, received counseling from Student Counseling Services which helped him deal with stress and anxiety brought on by low-level Asperger’s.
“I would talk about what was going on in my life and the counselor would help me process it in a positive way, and even though Asperger’s is a lifelong disease, but now I have better tools to handle my emotions since I’ve gone to the counseling center,” Johnson said.
However, many students are not able to recognize the difference between going through a bad time and suffering from a mental disorder. Although NAMI is an organization that is fairly new to Liberty’s campus, the events that the chapter hosts are bringing awareness to a religion that sometimes struggles to find a good balance between personal faith and mental health.
“Everything that concerns mental health starts with breaking the stigma and talking about it, we’re trying to move into a new era and I think on-campus resources like NAMI are a great way to accomplish that,” said Grohowski.
Another aspect of Liberty’s campus that is beneficial when it comes to mental health is its status as a dry campus and strict curfew enforced by campus leadership. While many complain that these rules hinder students or does not allow them to develop their own sense of responsibility, these same rules might be helpful to a person suffering from a mental disorder.
“The campus is very safe,” said Johanna Schick, a junior at Liberty. “I know not everyone likes the rules, but those rules help me cope with my mental illness better than if I was on a campus that didn’t have a curfew or an on-campus ban on alcohol.”
Although Liberty does many things right, some students feel as if there are areas that they could improve, especially when it comes to blending counseling with faith.
“I don’t believe that being a Christian means reading your Bible and everything will be better, but I do believe it can give you peace,” said Ashley Clemons, a senior who attended on-campus counseling. “When I went through counseling and generally on this campus, I feel as if people are too hesitant to use the Bible when it comes to talking about mental health, which I find strange. There is definitely a lot of room for improvement.”
The resources provided on campus give help and accountability to students dealing with mental illness, yet the process starts with them taking strategic steps to protect their personal mental health.
However, they do not have to go through their journey alone. There are many things their peers can do for them such as:
- Watch out for signs and symptoms of mental illness
- Give support and encourage them with positivity
- Continue to learn about the specific mental illness they are suffering from
Liberty’s Student Government Association is another group striving to help those that struggle with mental illness. Currently, the Liberty Way, which is an honor code that every Liberty student has to sign, makes self-harm a punishable offense. Yet a resolution being pushed through SGA this year by Johnson is attempting to change that so self-harm victims receive help instead of a fine and mandatory community service.
“The resolution that changes the Liberty Way will aid in helping people with mental health issues instead of blaming them for what they are going through,” said Johnson.
Tackling the issue of on-campus mental health is an almost impossible task for any college. Yet at Liberty, students are encouraged to focus on a unique blend of the mental, physical and spiritual aspects of their lives. While there is always room for improvement and the campus has a long way to go, the fact is that these resources and those who lead them are dedicated to helping and serving students.
Ways that Liberty University students can get connected:
- Go to community life groups and be active member of the student body
- Follow mental health social media accounts like NIMH and NAMI
- Help spread awareness and education by campaigning for more Convocation speakers that discuss mental health