Making your CU accessible - mental health
The term ‘mental health issues’ includes a vast range of different conditions, but invariably the result for the person experiencing them is rejection and enforced loneliness. In your student Christian group students with mental health issues can find acceptance.
One person in three in the UK will experience mental health issues at some time in their lives, with conditions like clinical depression or breakdown resulting from extreme stress, bereavement, redundancy, divorce, violence, abuse, childbirth or following a traumatic event. Fortunately, most people recover fully from situations like these. However, some conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and personality disorders are more long term, but can nonetheless usually be contained with treatment. Other conditions which may be experienced are obsessions, phobias, hysteria, self-harming and eating disorders.
- Many people will find group meetings difficult when their condition causes a lack of self confidence or anxiety about being in a large group. Warmth, encouragement and reassurance will help immeasurably.
- Small group meetings in students’ rooms are an ideal place of contact for some people. Others may struggle.
- A willingness to take telephone calls, e-mails or texts from students with mental health issues is very helpful. You may find it necessary to introduce some boundaries and agree a contract on frequency and duration of calls.
- Establish a team of people willing to keep in touch on a regular basis.
- Accept that many people who are anxious have mood swings, so be prepared for inconsistent responses.
- Don't be discouraged. People with mental health issues find life hard and people give up on them frequently - be there for the long haul.
- Show acceptance; affirm these people as special to God as are we all.
- Encourage and work with them to find strength in God to carry them in their situation.
- Help a depressed person to experience God’s presence even in their low time and help the elated 'high' person to keep a sense of perspective.
A person who self-harms is not necessarily mentally ill, but is usually experiencing extreme distress which may be as a result of abuse, depression, relationship problems or other difficulties.
Self-harm is more commonly seen in young people but can be experienced by people of any age.
The person may feel that self-harming gives them a sense of control, a release of emotion or punishment for feelings of guilt.
- You may be the first person to be aware that an individual is self-harming. Be sensitive and do not highlight the issue in public.
- Allow the person to talk about how they feel. Take them seriously and respect their feelings.
- Be honest about your feelings, but try to react in a clear and calm way. Explain that their behaviour upsets you but that you want to help.
- Don't criticise or blame a person for self-harming. This may make them feel even more alone and increase feelings of guilt and shame.
- Don't ask them to promise never to self-harm again. Some people will continue to self-harm over a long period of time.
- Encourage the person to seek help for the underlying cause of the self-harming.
www.selfharm.org.uk has advice for young people who are self-harming, along with helpful information for friends, families and professionals.
The term ‘eating disorders’ covers anorexia (severely restricting food intake) bulimia (bingeing and purging) and a number of other non-specific disorders relating to food.
The eating disorder is usually a way of coping with underlying issues rather than being about a person’s weight.
- Encourage a person with an eating disorder to talk about their difficulties, but avoid confrontation.
- ABC is a national Christian charity working to support all those with eating disorders www.anorexiabulimiacare.co.uk
www.mind.org.uk, www.sane.org.uk, and www.rcpsych.ac.uk all provide information on mental health issues, including self harm and eating disorders.
www.mindandsoul.info is an interesting site exploring the relationship between mental health and Christianity.
Assume nothing - always ask!
This resource is part of our Accessible CU series, created especially for Christian Unions by Through The Roof, a Christian Disability charity. To read this article in full, and other articles on including disabled students, download the student version of Through the Roof's publication Be a Roofbreaker for just £3.