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Are Mental Health and Spirituality Mutually Exclusive?

Woman in a classroom with chin in hand looking into distance

According to the American College Health Association, “over 77% of college students experience[d] moderate to severe psychological distress” in 2022. The mental health crisis has been on the rise in recent years and students are not only stressed about their personal endeavors but also the unfortunate events that take place in the greater world. COVID-19 took a toll on the physical, spiritual, and mental health of college students. However, even before the pandemic, over fifty percent claimed their mental health plummeted in college. Now, a global pandemic, financial burdens, and the deaths of loved ones have compounded students’ struggles

One might assume Christian college campuses would be immune to such conditions. There is a stigma on these campuses surrounding mental health services due to the apparent lack of spiritual principles; some argue that therapy attempts to replace God. However, students at Christian colleges “report being hospitalized or medicated for mental health issues (35% compared with 26% of secular school students) and seeing a mental health professional (44% versus 39% of secular school students) at the same or higher rates than their peers at nonreligious schools.” How have Christian schools responded to this dilemma?

In recent years, Christian campuses have strived to break this stigma and provide resources to address the mental health needs of their students. A potential benefit found by researchers is the size of Christian campuses. Since these religious institutions have a smaller professor-to-student ratio, students feel a little less intimidated to speak with professors or instructors about their personal issues, says Christianity Today.

Students at Washington Adventist University (WAU), although not immune to the mental health crisis, report feeling that they can confide in their professors when something is wrong due to being a “right sized campus”—a phrase coined by current President Weymouth Spence.

In recent years, WAU has strived to address the holistic health needs of each individual. Students can access resources through the recent installation of TimelyCare, a telehealth system where students can freely access a doctor, therapist, trainer, or dietitian in a matter of minutes at no charge. 

The school’s Adventist background means spiritual needs are also taken into account. A new spiritual initiative, Table Talk, seeks to create a space where students of all backgrounds can come together to discuss faith, life, and relevant issues such as mental health and identity. Building this community is key to addressing loneliness, one of the root causes of mental health issues. It is reported that loneliness is one of the greatest problems in Washington, DC and, because of their close proximity to this area, students at WAU experience these isolating effects first-hand. On a collegiate level, it is proven that over fifty percent of students experienced loneliness, even before the pandemic. Many students feel isolated, depressed, and anxious even when they are surrounded by others. Creating a supportive community is an important step in building true connections and strong relationships. 

Aside from gathering each Wednesday for convocation, Friday night for vespers, and Saturday for periodic prayer breakfasts, students need a space where they can vocalize their personal concerns, critiques, and questions. Barna Research shows that while young people are less interested in formal evangelism, they do not mind talking about their faith with their peers and those they trust. Students need the space to reflect on what they truly believe about themselves, God, and the world around them. This is the space Table Talk seeks to provide. 

At Table Talk sessions, student leaders suggest topics for their peers to discuss through the lens of faith, their respective academic disciplines, and their personal backgrounds. Testimonies from students who participated in Table Talk sessions in 2022 claim that seeing other perspectives “helped shape their own,” and therefore, Table Talk helped them grow in their faith. Many participants agreed that it was helpful to have students lead the initiatives because it seemed like they loved without an agenda—meaning transactions were organic, genuine, and filled with care. Students were able to share things that troubled and hurt them and could start to process the experiences they endured inside and outside of church walls. 

Table Talk sparks conversation. Wherever students find themselves in life, they can find a place at “the table,” where they will be seen, heard, and loved. This very logic aligns with the heart of God, who wants his people to feel seen, heard, loved, and appreciated. Table Talk is a space where God can intervene with his love and life-giving truth. Spiritual and mental health should not have to be mutually exclusive. If both are considered in light of the holistic health of a student, both are a necessity for true success. Together, they provide the abundant life God has in store for his people, as referenced in John 10:10. The mind is where faith is conceived, grown, and understood. The health of the entire body points back to the mind. To neglect such a place would be detrimental to one’s spiritual journey. 

 


Tiara Best is a student at Washington Adventist University studying theology with a minor in music. She currently serves as the Student Association Religious Vice President and wears many other hats around campus and at her church, DC Campus where she serves as the intern discipleship pastor. She seeks to connect faith with lifestyle in her own ministry and personal life so others can see the relevance and love of God at work. 

Title image by Pixabay (CCO).

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