21 Feb Foster Sound Mental Health
A student’s attempt of suicide recently rocked the campus of a prestigious institute in India. This incident comes in the wake of two students- a 22 year old student and another 21 year old student- reportedly committing suicide in the same campus. News of suicide of 72 students of coaching classes during the last five years shocked the students’ parents and the academic community. Of late, news of such unnatural deaths particularly among youths is frequent. India has one of the world’s highest rates of suicides among people aged between 15 years and 29 years. Depression is commonly cited as the reason for the untimely ending of lives. According to the Director-General of World Health Organization, one of the leading mental conditions causing disability worldwide is depression.
Depression, currently the 5th leading cause of disability, is projected to jump to 2 nd place by 2020.
Poor performance in academics is considered as the greatest cause of stress and depression among the students. 2,471 students in India committed suicide in 2013 due to depression over failure in examinations. A student was very much depressed over the results expected within a week ahead. He suffered from terrible anxiety as he thought he would not succeed. Just before a day of publication of results, he took the extreme step of ending his life. Next day, the results declared the youth to have passed in first class. The youth did not have any scope to reverse his decision taken at the spur of the moment due to excess stress.
Grim statistics as above throws challenge to focus on area of mental health of our students and youth community. It is important to understand the causes of anxiety and depression college students/youths battle with, so that we can sympathise with the concerns of our fellow students in the campus and others in our neighbourhood and play significant role in improving their mental health. A few notable issues in the matter are discussed here.
Many students do not have clear knowledge about the purpose and reason of learning beyond getting a good grade. They sometimes fail to convince themselves of the need to learn adequate enough subjects assigned to them. The big picture of a student life as a wonderful time for preparation for life to be profitable for the society is lost sight of. More hard work in the semester or academic year puts them in stress. Anxieties and worries unnecessarily swell up in their mind affecting them physically and mentally. Lord Jesus is the Lord of learning and source of all wisdom and knowledge. He is the One who holds all things together (Col. 1:16-17). The Bible teaches us to live worthily of our calling (Eph. 4:1). Many in our country do not get opportunity to enter into college or university due to poverty and other social reasons. We should be grateful to have entered into the portals of higher learning and make most of the opportunity to soar high to serve the community. Walking worthy of calling is a purposeful and wilful call of God. The word disciple means a student and life-long learner. There need not be any stress for a disciple/ student who continuously and regularly learn, relearn, grow, improve and work hard with extra hours, when he/she is aware of personal call and rises to the occasion with strength and power of the Master.
Utilising and managing time right from day one is also an important factor in de-stressing the lives of students. Many of us have to face failure at one point of time. But it is time we rose up leaving aside the past and moved ahead. Many students with ordinary performance have grown to be extra-ordinary leaders as they persevered against failures, problems and challenges. “If anyone deficient of wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him (James 1:5)”. Cast all cares & anxieties and concerns upon Him for He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:7). God declares His people will not be put to shame (Joel 2:26). We need to declare the promises of God on our lives every day. With God’s promises and favour on our side, we will overcome academic floundering and excel as students. Senior students’ guidance and assistance to juniors in learning the difficult subjects will be of a great help in overcoming the academic stress.
Our campus and work place induce negative peer pressure. The problem starts when you compare with your friends or try to identify with particular friends or group. The psalmist admonishes us not to fret because of him who prospers (Ps. 37:7). God has created each one of us uniquely and let us do our best individually as per the ability God has given and keep on improving and excelling every time without comparing with others.
Satan will try to trap a Christian through drugs, alcohol, porn, and so on. These bad habits are sure to frustrate and depress. The Bible says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. ” (James 4:7). So Christians can resist the Evil One. In 2 Peter 2:9 we read that the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation. God can deliver us from temptation and negative peer pressure if we pray for deliverance from it. Negative peer pressure need not be confused with positive peer pressure. Positive peer pressure edifies us and boosts our excellence.
Addiction and drug abuse have been attributed as one of the major causes of suicidal deaths. Youths often fall into these. They lose the purpose of life and waste their academic year unless they are rehabilitated in de-addiction centre and start a normal life.
The Bible addresses the need for balance and control. “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12). We should have but one addiction – and that is a devotion to love God and our fellow man. The supreme power that should rule over us is God through the Holy Spirit believing that we are the temple of the Living God. (2 Cor. 6:16)
It is good for a student to safeguard himself from being distracted by any unacceptable and unhealthy relationship. Such wrong relationship kills the commitment to God and academics as well. It is better to find a suitable fellowship and grow in the Lord which will provide social support system thus leaving less scope for undesirable acts.
Anyone can fall sick mentally irrespective of his/her faith. We need to place mental illness in the same category as every other form of illness and accordingly provide treatment options including medication and counselling for serious mental illness as and when required. Early diagnosis and treatment of depression can relieve depression symptoms, prevent depression from returning, and help students succeed in college and after graduation. Healing is available in Jesus to all who believe. Prayer of faith will heal the sick and the Lord will raise him up (James 5:15). Although treatment often works, it is very costly and time consuming. It sometimes adversely impacts physical health and trauma to family members.
Many mental illnesses can be prevented. A few biblical perspectives on cultivating sound mental health are worth mentioning to prevent depression.
Transformed life empowers a new and renewed mind: A new creation in Christ lives under the power of God and the Holy Spirit. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation and old things have passed away; behold all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). Our minds are to reflect the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) as a result of daily fellowship with God. Praise and worship in the presence of the Living God will strengthen our mind against onslaught of daily discouragement and depression. “. . . By the mercies of God you present your bodies . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . . ” (Rom. 12:1-2). Without leading life in tune with the world, a person is transformed by the renewing of his mind which gives impetuous to sound and healthy mind. His mind is occupied with love for God and one another and serving others.
Overcoming the spirit of fear and anxiety with confidence by the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind: Everyone experiences fear at some point or other. Fear assumes phobia when it becomes consistent and irrational. God does not want us to be controlled by any fear. “Do not be afraid of sudden fear. . . ” (Pro. 3:25). The Bible calls upon us on all the 365 days: “not to fear”, “Do not to be afraid nor be dismayed”. As we grow in relationship with God and His love, “love casts out fear’ (1 Jn 4:18). Everybody struggles against worry and anxiety which is some form of fear . . . When it impacts our lives, we need to confront and overcome it with confidence and “. . . Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:23). Sometimes anxieties relate to meeting our daily needs. He also exhorted us to overcome these worries as by seeking His kingdom first. When our priorities conform to God’s will, we can live in confidence that He will help us meet all our needs.
Against fear, every child of God needs to declare, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13). When the Spirit of God works in us we can cleanse our minds and develop new mental habits. (2 Tim. 1:7).
The Fruit of the Spirit controls mental health and arrests mental aberrations: When the life of a person bears fruit of the spirit i. e. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), he will be less vulnerable to the negative emotions and the pulls of the flesh.
Positive attitude builds sound mental health: It is important to fill our thoughts of all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious, whatever is excellent and admirable (Phil. 4:8). A person who applies and practises these will develop positive attitude and disposition. We must avoid filling our minds with negative and degrading mental diet from print, electronics and social media. We should discipline our minds and adopt ‘garbage in, garbage out’ to transfer corruptible things to mental trash every moment. The optimistic mind focuses on the positive when the negativities try to overtake us. The best way to deal is to turn the problem we face into a challenge and work on it. God of peace will bring peace of mind as we rest and wait on Him.
Many youths have encountered the Living Saviour during depressed moments of their lives. Believing youth, friends, colleagues, help centres, call centres, churches, and organisations have played crucial role in saving precious lives from this terrible mental illness. Believers slipping into despondency have also been observed. It’s, therefore, important for us to foster sound mental health. Rightly, the apostle John prays that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well (3 John 2).
Dr Nanda Dulal
The author is working as Group Director (Administration) in a Central Government Department. He resides in Bangalore with his wife Geetanjali and daughter Bonita. He and his wife are involved with UESI ministry right from their student days.