My Encounter with Mental Illness
My freshman year, I spiraled into a clinical depression triggered by an off-campus move. That semester, my lack of finances required moving from the dorms into an apartment across the street from the university. There, I lived rent-free with a generous elderly woman. Yet I felt like an outsider looking in as daily I'd peer out the window at students walking to and fro.
Although I lived in a cloud of mental confusion, somehow I managed to attend classes and chapel. For over a year, I daily fought back a stream of tears that threatened to publicly out me. I thought I was crazy; my only relief was sleep. So I slept a lot. And I loathed myself. Even though I prayed and read Scripture daily, I felt numb, isolated, and alienated—damned. It felt as if God had fled. Although surrounded by several thousand professing Christians, I was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell others except a counselor and superficially a few others. For the most part, no one seemed to notice. I contemplated suicide.
Because of the fervent prayers and encouraging phone calls of my younger siblings, Kenny and Michelle, I clung to life. Day by day they ministered God's grace. And, thanks be to God, I started the climb out of the lowest rungs of hell late in my sophomore year.
Yet I know that not everybody makes it. And according to one report released last week, the number of college students struggling is growing. At an American Psychological Association meeting, John Guthman of Hofstra University reported that, based on a sample of over 3,000 U.S. students, the percentage of students with moderate to severe depression rose from 34% to 41% from 1998 to 2010. Relatedly, the number of students on psychiatric medications went from 11% to 24% in the same period. (Conversely, the number of students who said they had considered suicide within two weeks of counseling went from 26% to 11% in this period.) Guthman said the rise isn't about increasing stress loads—though that's a likely factor—but about more students with pre-existing conditions attending college, and their increased willingness to seek help.
Here at Cedarville University, in an anonymous survey conducted by Student Life, 33.2% percent of students reported dealing with depression at one time or another during their college experience.
As a resident director, I share dorm life with 154 women, and many confide in me. And because of my experience, I am sensitive to signs and symptoms of depression. When I notice signs or am told someone is depressed, I gently inquire about her well-being. If she opens up, I suggest she see a campus counselor and take full advantage of the resources available here. I encourage her to share with safe persons within the Christian community, here and elsewhere—to suffer within community and find hope and perhaps healing in the midst of it. I pray that she'll know the love of God—that she isn't alone in the deep sadness; that Christ's body suffers with her.