In my last post, I wrote about feelings of inadequacy common, in my experience, among university students regarding the world’s “big issues”. I want to focus this post on another commonality I’ve noticed among my classmates and peers: mental illness. My own relationships with my friends here in university has led me to believe that an alarming number of Canadian students struggle with either stress, depression or anxiety—so much so that it has almost become a normal and expected part of university life—and studies from the University of Western Ontario, University of Alberta, and the University of Victoria seem to back up this observation. In 2011, MacLean’s Magazine even wrote that “fully a quarter of university-age Canadians w[ould] experience a mental health problem.”
Many things are being done, thankfully, to help university students. At UBC, at least, campus groups have focused more and more on raising mental health awareness and removing the stigma of mental illness. Free counseling services and student-run organizations provide listening ears and professional help for those in need. There is even a clinic right next door to supply medical support.
Still, it is one thing to feel helpless about the “world’s problems” in an immobilizing, distant sort of way. It is another to know that one of your friends is unable to get out of bed in the morning because she can’t think about starting to face another day. Or to hear your roommate cry herself to sleep every night. Or for your friend tell you about her having a panic attack right in the middle of an exam and being unable to finish. It is unbearable to be so outside of their pain that you cannot make them be healthy again, and I honestly don’t know what the best way to watch your friends struggle through this is.
However, I’m going to cling to what I see as moments of redemption—instances that allow for some kind of release from darkness, allow for a bit of hope. I am going to cling to an evening in late December that I spent curled up with my roommate in her bed watching episodes of Veronica Mars. Hearing her laugh beside me at Kristen Bell’s wit made me think that maybe things would be okay.
I’m not saying that these moments show absolute signs of recovery and I know that TV shows aren’t necessarily the best way for someone to work through their problems or find enjoyment in life. But I do think that every time a friend struggling with their mental health and wellbeing gets a text from someone that cares, or a youtube video of a kitten posted to their Facebook wall, or a visitor come to check in and listen to what they have to say, maybe God is texting and posting and knocking on their door too—reaching out and breaking through walls of isolation and sadness and stress to offer love.
...I realize that just implied that God speaks through kitten youtube videos. And I do think that big changes, in universities and in society, need to take place in order to deal with what I see as a mental health crisis. But as one worried about friends and at times frustrated at God for seemingly letting them suffer alone, I find it encouraging to hold onto very small moments that might yet become a part of the strength needed to overcome the hurdles of mental health.