“Maybe you are depressed.” That was the last thing I expected to hear from a doctor my senior year of college. Depressed? I was doing well academically, was surrounded by a good group of friends and was a student leader for Athletes in Action, a sport’s ministry on campus. Why would I be depressed? But the symptoms were there. I was staying up most nights and sleeping during the day. I found myself getting tired without much physical activity. There were also small panic attacks combined with shortness of breath that would strike at random times. My self-diagnosis was a relapse of mononucleosis. After a series of negative tests, the campus physician suggested depression.
From my experience working in campus ministry, I think parents and church leaders have a significant role to play in helping young college students navigate these challenges. What follows are five things parents and church leaders should know about the mental health of college students along with a few suggestions of how to respond:
First, a high percentage of college students battle anxiety and depression. According to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, within the last 12 months, 30 percent of students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function and 49 percent felt overwhelming anxiety. An additional 10 percent of students also reported being diagnosed or treated for depression and more than six percent seriously considered suicide. Statistics like these should open our eyes to the deeper needs of many of the college students in our communities.
Second, many students battling depression feel ashamed and alone. My own response to my depression surprised me. I didn’t know with whom to talk. I was apprehensive about telling my parents and closest friends. What’s more, as a Christian, I wasn’t sure you were allowed to be depressed! After all, Jesus was in my heart, wasn’t he? It turns out that my response was quite common. In an interview for Inside Higher Ed, longtime psychiatrist Dr. Leibow explains that the majority of the patients he has seen “were capable, motivated students, with loving, appropriately involved parents.” So why were these kids floundering and keeping their parents in the dark? The answer, he realized, was shame. “They were ashamed because they believed—wrongly—that they were the only one of their peers having problems.”
It’s important for parents and youth workers to create safe places for their families to discuss mental health. Let young people in your family and church know that depression is a reality for many students. Be aware of the symptoms. And be honest about the culture of the Christian community you are a part. What do youth and college students think about depression as it relates to faith? Ask them.
Third, some students think they are a failure if they use medication for anxiety or depression. As a culture, there may be an increasing tendency to turn to medication too quickly. We need to be careful and discerning. When it comes to anxiety and depression, however, many students have a misguided understanding of antidepressants. Often they are simply used to correct imbalances in the levels of chemicals in the brain. According to the American Psychiatric Association, these “medications are not sedatives, ‘uppers’ or tranquilizers. Neither are they habit-forming. Generally, antidepressants have no stimulating effect on those not experiencing depression.” Parents, along with college ministers, have a role to play in the way they support students who have chosen to use medication. Let them know that God can work through medication to bring about positive change.
“Please pray for me. I’m feeling a lot of stress, and I’m not sure why. It’s not like I have more work this semester than normal. I just don’t know why I am learning what I am learning. I feel like if there was a reason for what I am learning, any reason beyond to get a grade, then I could work hard again. But in all of my classes, I can’t honestly tell you why I need to learn this stuff. I have no idea why this matters.”
Here’s how parents and college ministers can help relieve some of the academic stress students have when facing an incoherent curriculum: remind students why they study. Point them to Jesus, the Lord of learning, the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:15-20). Teach students the centrality of learning within the biblical story and cast a vision for how college learning is preparing them to be used by God in their communities. To be a disciple literally means to be a student, a life long learner. Do students in your church love God with their minds? Are students able to articulate how their faith relates to their major? I echo Brea’s frustration: much of the stress around academics is because students don’t have good reasons for learning.
Fifth, students are surprised by the extra stress created by college breaks. One of the most well attended bible studies I’ve had with college students was around the theme “honoring your mother and father during the college years.” I invited an older couple to share with the group what they had learned from parenting college students. Students were eager to ask questions and enter the conversation. Here’s what we learned: communication is key. Encourage students to “honor parents” by having a conversation about parental expectations during college breaks.
“Students seem to have no idea what they are getting into.”
My neighbor’s son was recently visiting home after spending a day speaking to classes at his alma mater. He was asked to talk to current college students about his work and how his time in college prepared him for a career in finance. Before diving into the topic at hand, he asked the students about how they were paying for college and how much debt they were accumulating. The above comment was the beginning of our recent, eye-opening conversation on my front porch.
Students have no idea? My neighbor made three helpful observations from his day with college students… First, he was alarmed to discover that the school he attended less than 10 years ago now costs $46,000 a year. He had no idea that the cost had risen so much since he was a student. Second, he was shocked to learn that most students didn’t seem to realize how difficult it would be to pay off that kind of debt in the current economy. (And these were students studying business and finance!) Third, he was disappointed to realize that he seemed to be the only person bringing this up with the students.
I wanted to make sure I was hearing him correctly. Here’s the summary I offered: “So, students are accumulating massive amounts of debt, the job prospects are bleak and no one, before you, has pointed this out to the students?”
Bill Bennett’s introduction should be heard by all students and parents entering the college planning process. No matter what side of the political aisle you are on (and yes, Dr. Bennett is most often associated with the “right”), you should not avoid asking good questions about the value and worth of a 4-year college degree, especially in this economy. At one point during the panel discussion, Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder makes this observation: “Colleges are too costly; students are learning too little; and employment prospects for graduates are increasingly dismal.” That should, at the very least, give us pause.
Please do take time to watch this short video, read the book and let the conversation begin!
It is because countless conversations like the one yesterday on my front porch and the publication of important books like Is College Worth It? that has motivated me to host the new CTI seminar “The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances” on October 12 in Lancaster, PA. College costs are going up, students are going into crippling debt and I’m convinced that we need to have better conversations about life after high school. I hope to see you there!
“According to U.S. News & World Report, the total cost of a four-year degree by the time my youngest goes to college, assuming he does, will top $200,000… My own schooling was paid for with grants, loans and the occasional credit card; the debt was paid off a decade after I graduated, and the feeling of liberation was palpable. But the $10,000 or so I owed is minuscule compared to the debt accumulated by graduates today. And particularly in this job market — one likely to continue deteriorating in terms of quality, good-paying jobs for those just out of school — how in the world can grads expect to conquer the resulting mountain of debt?”
From Dr. Kelly-Woessner:
“College costs are largely consumer- driven. The solution may be to simply reduce the money available to students. Unfortunately, universities often find that instructional costs are the easiest to cut. Indeed, many institutions are increasingly relying on low-paid adjuncts. In the face of financial strain, my husband has seen the full-time faculty members in his department at Penn State Harrisburg cut in half. So, although faculty salaries have not driven the rising tuition costs, instruction is often the first casualty in the face of budget cuts.”
From my many conversations with families, I’m realizing more and more that parents and students have questions about how to make wise decisions concerning life after high school. That’s why I’m so excited about the seminar on October 12 in Lancaster, PA. Registration info coming soon!
Here is the recording from the webinar yesterday. It was an honor to have the opportunity to interview my good friend Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Bookstore and to hear his recommendations for summer reading and study. For what it’s worth, I purchased 6 of the 54 books he mentioned!
The mission of CPYU is to work with churches, schools, and community organizations to build stronger relationships between young people and those charged with helping them grow into healthy adulthood. I was reminded yesterday that in order to fulfill that mission, for CPYU, for parents, and for church leaders, we need thoughtful and biblical resources. Byron’s calling is helping us in our calling, by pointing us to the best of what’s available. Thank you Byron!
Click here to download (.pdf) the power point presentation to see the list of books recommended.
Click here to order books from Hearts & Minds (Byron is offering 20% off all the books mentioned during the webinar!).
Click here to read Byron’s very popular Booknotes blog.
Join me as I ask CPYU’s favorite bookseller, Byron Borger, to suggest the best books to read this summer. Byron owns Hearts & Minds, a bookstore in Dallastown, PA and has been in the book business for over 30 years. He enjoys crafting custom-made lists for specific audiences. He is a long-time friend of us here at CPYU and has agreed to offer a list for us. Listen in as he shares key titles to inspire us in our tasks as parents, youth workers and Christian leaders.
Watch a video of Byron discussing why reading matters here:
The term worldview is now widely used in discussions about faith, philosophy, culture and education. The word jumped into English from the German, Weltanschauung, and has become increasingly familiar in the last fifty years, especially in some Christian circles. Many Christians latched onto the term because it helped to describe the all-encompassing, cosmic scope of the Gospel. The Christian faith is not just a religion, but a way of life that has far-reaching implications for the way we “see” reality and live in the world. A worldview is a vision of life and for life. Familiarity often breeds contempt, however. While many agree that the popularity and wide-spread acceptance of the concept has been a good thing for the church, some critics suggest proceeding with caution when teaching that Christianity is a worldview.
J. Mark Bertrand has spent much of his adult life teaching young people the value of understanding worldviews and thinking “Christianly” about all areas of life. But he too has concerns about the misuse and misapplication of the term. In his book Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Crossway) Bertrand seeks to capture a more complex, nuanced appreciation of what worldviews really are. Bertrand has a degree in English from Union University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston. He is also the author of a successful 3-part series of “Roland March” detective novels (Back on Murder, Pattern of Wounds and Nothing to Hide). What follows is an interview with Bertrand about worldview and how the concept, when properly understood can help young people grow in faith…
This past weekend I presented the College Transition Seminar for the Black Rock Church in Fairfield, CT. Over lunch, the seminar also featured a panel discussion with current college students. Parents and students had the opportunity to ask “real live” college students about the struggles and successes they had transitioning to the next chapter of their life story. The conversation was rich. Not only did the parents and high school students gain much wisdom from what they heard, but the college students greatly benefitted from telling their stories as well.
It got me thinking… a college student panel is a simple thing to do and it can make a big difference in the lives of soon-to-be college students! It doesn’t even require much prep work. Ask college students you know if they would be interested in sitting on a panel. If they say “yes” they probably have something they would like to share! And then ask simple questions to get the conversation started, like:
How did you decide on the college you chose?
Was it difficult to find Christian community on campus?
What surprised you the most when transitioning to college?
If you could do the transition over again, what would you do differently?
What advice would offer to high school students who are nervous about the transition?
In between each question, open it up to the parents and students to ask follow-up questions. It’s also a good idea to pass around 3×5 cards beforehand, in case people are more comfortable writing their question instead of asking it in front of others.
Students need a vision for what it looks like to have a successful transition to college. Hearing from current college students can help them gain a vision for what their transition could and should look like.
It’s that time of year. Senioritis at school and church is kicking in. Students are ready to coast to the finish-line and make their way to the next chapter of their life story. For many graduating seniors (but not all), the “next step” will be college in the fall. According to recent research by the Fuller Youth Institute only 1 in 7high school seniors report feeling prepared to face the challenges of college life. How can we engage seniors during the last few months of high school so that they are better prepared for the challenges ahead? What follows are three suggested activities to invite students to think more deeply about this crucial transition (each activity takes about an hour and could work well as three consecutive youth group meetings):
First, create space for better conversations about life after high school. Host a panel discussion with college students and have soon-to-be graduates ask them questions about how they can be better prepared. Consider including older members of the community as well. Have them reflect on their own decisions and transitions when they were about to graduate from high school. Ask people 20+ years removed from college this question: If you could do it all over again, what would you have done differently? Conclude the meeting by giving students the article “Conversations for the College Bound: 10 Talks to Have Before Arriving on Campus.” Have the students discuss the article with the group.
What conversation(s) stuck out to you as you read?
Were there any conversation partners listed that you hadn’t considered?
What conversations would you like to pursue over the next few weeks?
Second, have an open and honest conversation about faith after high school. To generate good discussion, watch a Veritas Forum video with college bound students. Veritas Forums are university events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life. I highly recommend The Veritas Forum featuring Tim Keller at the University of California, Berkeley.
What stuck out to you as you listened to Dr. Keller presentation?
What do you think were his strongest points?
Did you have any disagreements with Dr. Keller arguments for belief in God and the Christian faith?
How do you think Dr. Keller handled the questions from the audience? What can you learn from him about how to have discussions with people who disagree with your worldview?
If you were given the task of explaining or defending the Christian faith at an event like The Veritas Forum, how would you do it? What would the outline of your talk be? Would you be nervous? Why or why not?
Third, help students connect with Christian community before they arrive on campus. Remind students of the value and necessity of community to Christian faith. As you learn where students will be going to college, take a proactive approach by contacting campus ministries and churches in those areas. Start by asking others in your congregation who might be familiar with the community in which the college is located. Next, browse the college’s Web site to see what is offered on campus. Send e-mails and make phone calls. Get in touch with campus ministers and pastors in the area. Consider using a night at youth group to help college bound students make these important connections months before they arrive on campus. Check out this article for more ideas: “Finding Community in College: 5 Ways to Help Students Connect.”
Do you think it will be easy or difficult to make new friends in college?
Why do you think community is important to Christian faith?
Do you think college relationships will be the same as high school relationships? Why or why not?
Do you think you will attend church while in college? Why or why not?
Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story (Zondervan) by John Sowers offers an eye-opening, bleak, but ultimately hopeful look into a generation growing up without fathers playing an active role in their lives.
The first half of the book paints a dismal picture of fatherlessness in America. Thirty-three percent of youth—over 25 million kids—grow up without a dad. According to Sowers “the fatherless boy lives with the nagging accusation that he will never be adequate, never measure up, never really be a man.” And, “while our fatherless sons rage, our fatherless daughters decay. Driven by a crippling sense of unworthiness and a gnawing hunger for Dad, they are emotionally and sexually promiscuous.” Citing various sources, Sowers concludes: “The fatherless generation is accountable for most of the serious problems we face today…”
63% of youth suicides 71% of pregnant teenagers 90% of all homeless and runaway children 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions 85% of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger 71% of all high school dropouts 75% of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers 85% of all youths sitting in prison
But there is hope. The second half of the book is an urgent plea for churches to invest in intentional mentoring programs. Sowers is currently the president of The Mentoring Project, which “seeks to respond to the American crisis of fatherlessness by inspiring and equipping faith communities to mentor fatherless boys.” He offers countless stories and statistics of boys and girls who made successful and healthy transitions from adolescence to adulthood. The common denominator was that they had mentors in their lives, showing them want it meant and looked like to be men and women. Understanding the daunting task of being a mentor, the book concludes with helpful and inspiring advice on how to engage the fatherless among us.
Sowers forces us to open our eyes to the devastating crisis of fatherlessness. It is pervasive. And because it affects everyone in some way, everyone should read this book. If you come from a fatherless background this book will help you to make sense of your situation. Youth workers should read this book in order to better understand how to serve the fatherless in their congregations and communities. And, finally, fathers should read this book to be reminded of the importance and challenge of being a faithful dad.