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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.

NAMI-Getting-the-Right-Start

source: NAMI website

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:

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The Fear Of Not Speaking In Public

By Sydney Jones

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74 percent of Americans suffer from public speaking anxiety, and the only fear that is statistically greater is the fear of death.

However, college students who are on Liberty University’s forensics team willingly compete in public speaking events around the country on multiple weekends during the semester.

Denise Thomas, the head coach of the forensics team, enjoys watching the students on the team grow and become proficient speakers.

“Seeing the students grow and develop is my favorite part of being a coach,” Thomas said. “I love seeing a student who has just a seed of an idea, develop that idea and become more passionate and excited about the piece they are presenting.”

When students compete in forensics speech they are required to take a piece of literature or an issue and analyze it through dramatic interpretation and original speeches. Through preparing speeches, members of the team learn valuable lessons.

“Forensics forces you to be more self-aware,” said Lindsey Ball. “You can never go up in front of your judges with a passive attitude. You need support and confidence in what you believe. That is one thing that forensics has taught me.”

Ball is a sophomore at Liberty and has been competing in forensics for six years. She says that public speaking has helped her to become a more open-minded person, but it has also taught her how to defend her beliefs.

“Listening to other competitors and their views allows me to understand what I believe, be able to defend what I believe and realize what I don’t believe,” Ball said.

Forensics is a great extracurricular for any skill level, and can help break down the fear most people associate with public speaking.

“Students who lack confidence or skill through forensics can grow into a terrific speaker,” Thomas said.

Michael MacDowall, a sophomore at Liberty, is brand new to forensics. Although MacDowall has a background in debate and does not struggle with public speaking anxiety, he believes that forensics can help break the fear of public speaking.

“I think a lot of the fear of public speaking comes from a lack of doing, and people feel a lot of pressure when they’re speaking because they do not speak in front of people often. Frequency lessens that pressure,” MacDowall said.

Fear of public speaking is something that students on the forensics team actively fight against. Ball says before she started competing on the forensics team in high school, she had severe public speaking anxiety, but now enjoys competing.

“Conquering a fear is one of the most positive things you can do for yourself in order to grow your identity and character,” Ball said.

Because it is a team sport, forensics can foster strong bonds between students on the team and the coaches. The coaches are responsible for giving constructive criticism and helping the students become more well-rounded speakers.

“The coaches have created an environment that encourages everyone to keep getting better, and they foster growth within my own skill set,” MacDowall said.

Thomas also believes that as the forensics team coach, she is preparing the team for success in their professional careers.

“Employers are always looking for confident, competent speakers who can understand information and give a logical answer,” Thomas said. “Forensics allows you to do that and teaches you confidence in yourself and your opinions.”

Forensics is not just about public speaking. Ball believes the friendships that are formed between teammates and competitors from other teams are valuable in learning how to work together and communicate well in a group setting.

“My teammates are there to encourage me, build me up and critique me when I need it,” Ball said. “We are working together as this mechanical unit where everyone has different areas that we’re passionate about but we all work together as one.”

Public speaking is a legitimate fear that many people struggle with, but forensics allows students from all over the country to articulate ideas and learn skills that will carry over into their careers.

“Forensics is unique because you get to take a few moments of someone’s life and be able to touch them and influence them; once you focus on the message you want to tell other people, you won’t be as nervous,” Macdowell said.