I remember the first time I got to swim in a public pool. It was one of the most joyous moments in my life as a child, and also, one of the scariest. I remember being oblivious about the deep end of the pool, even though my uncle always warned me to not go too far.
Once, I accidentally ventured to the deep end to fetch my life preserver and was soon plunged into the depth of the water. I panicked and flailed my arms trying to keep afloat, gasping for air. I would reach the surface every so often, but was terrified. My older sister tried to help me to no avail, and we then were both flailing our arms and gasping for air, pushing each other up and down. Finally, my uncle plucked us out as we coughed up water we had swallowed.
The feeling of drowning is extremely similar to what I have felt and experienced dealing with depression.
In the United States each year, 34,598 people die by suicide, an average of 94 completed suicides every day. More people die by suicide (34,598) than by homicide (18,361) in the United States, and suicide is the eleventh-leading cause of death across all ages.
On the college campuses the rate of suicide is between .5 and 7.5 per 100,000 among college students. There are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses per year. It is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 25 to 34 and the third-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24.
With these daunting numbers, how should the church respond to college students who are going through depression and suicidal ideation?
For most of my college experience, I struggled with depression and had a hard to time grasping to understand why. Presently though, I am able to better deal with and fight my depression with the help of counseling, prayer, and friends and family. However, I’m not fully healed and still have dark days from time to time, where I feel crippled as though I am unable to do anything. It’s like drowning, being hit by wave after wave, trying to reach the surface for air.
As someone who has struggled with depression myself, here are a couple of tips on how we as campus ministers and college students can help student who are facing depression and suicidal ideation.
Listen to your friends and offer your time
When we have friends or students who confide in us about their struggles with depression, often our first instinct is to open our memory bank of bible verses about God’s sovereignty or comfort. We point them to God and how he never intended for pain to happen. We say that He will somehow bring healing, often trying to avoid the darkness ourselves, pushing away their feelings so we don’t have to deal with them, or trying to find an easy answer to their problem.
Depression and pain sometimes don’t just go away in months or even in years. Often times, especially for believers who face depression, they already feel guilty for having these thoughts rather than just looking to God. Piling on encouragements will usually not make them any more cheerful about their circumstance.
Staying with them though through their dark time and just listening will help them more. It’s also important to be intentional and to not just leave the ball in their court.
Start conversations within your community about mental illness
Often, mental illness is rarely talked about in ministries or within the four walls of our churches. Our churches and society, no doubt, want to help those who are going through these issues, yet may not know how to converse with others about it, let alone those who are suffering. Talk with your pastors and leadership about having trainings on how to help students who are dealing with mental illness. Also, work within your church to have events that raise awareness and erase the stigma that surrounds depression and suicide.
Jesus came to the world to heal the sick, and we have a calling to care for those who endure the challenges of depression. We, as followers of Christ, have a responsibility to shift the paradigm and the ways of thinking of our society.
Anthony Deng is the New York City Metro Campus Coordinator for Campus Renewal. He leads and coordinates volunteers for events such as One Cry and helps facilitate the New York City Metro Area student core team. Anthony was born and raised in New York City, graduated from CUNY the City College of New York, and has a B.A in History and Asian Studies. Anthony gives New York City tours to freshmen of various campuses. On his tour, he teaches and shows students various hidden gems of New York City. On the side, he loves to collect college sweatshirts and t-shirts. In addition, he loves to play and watch basketball and football. He is an avid fan of the Pacers and Colts.