Offering hope in the midst of mental illness
One in four university students in the UK struggle with their mental health, and only 8% of students know no one with mental health problems.
That means that students within Christian Unions are struggling with their own mental health, but they’re also caring for friends who are struggling, and living in colleges and halls with people who are struggling, and sitting in lectures and labs with people who are struggling, and inviting people who are struggling to come to events.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
As Paul's words in 2 Corinthians demonstrate, having the hope and comfort of knowing Jesus is a great help in our own suffering, but it also gives us something unique to offer to friends who are struggling.
At Forum 2017 we hosted, for the first time, an afternoon discussion to think about ‘living well with mental health issues’. Over 100 student leaders crammed into the venue to learn about how to care better for themselves and their CU friends, as well as to engage in evangelism that would deliberately seek to care for those who are suffering.
In particular, we discussed how important it is to be especially careful with our language in the way that we speak about mental health struggles. Too often, mental illnesses are referred to carelessly or made the punchline of jokes. It is so important that, as Christians, we be distinctive and kind in the way that we talk about this subject, and so we spent some time thinking about what that means for our public as well as our personal proclamation of the gospel.
We also got to hear about an event that OICCU puts on every year before finals: the Stress-Free Banquet. This event gives the CU an opportunity to demonstrate care and compassion for their fellow students in word and deed, as they offer a nice meal, a relaxed atmosphere and some words of advice on how to avoid stress in the midst of a very pressurised season of life, and as they hold out the hope that Jesus offers.
We’ll be hosting this discussion again at Forum 2018 and welcoming Mark Meynell, author of the upcoming book When Darkness is My Closest Friend: Reflections on Life and Ministry with Depression. If you’d love to get your CU talking about how we can share the good news of the gospel with students struggling with their mental wellbeing, book now to join us there.
How do you seek to care for those struggling with mental health problem as you hold out the hope that Jesus offers? Let us know using #CUNews #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
Ellie Cook is a Staff Worker with Durham CU and has spent several years in student mission, both in the UK and in South Africa.