Counseling centers on college campuses are packed out these days. Students are waiting in long lines to visit a counselor to talk about anxiety, depression, suicide, sexual trauma, substance abuse, and more.*
I’m not a counselor but I do offer a listening ear. I hear a lot about medical issues, family conflicts, broken friendships, and academic pressure.
And more than ever, I seem to see in the eyes of millennials and gen z’s a desperate sense of being overwhelmed and defeated. A Michigan student said to me recently in a dorm lounge, “Something you should know about me, Rick: I struggle with depression.” He’s a sharp kid, and quite funny. Behind the veneer, however, is despair.
What’s causing the decline in mental health on campus? It’s common for Christian observers to offer diagnoses such as fear of failure, financial stress, breakdown of the family, and social media overload combined with shallow relationships.
Hard to disagree with any of these.
My two cents’ worth: Maybe what I can add to the discussion is something from the law of Moses. Central to the law was the idea of loving the “Lord your God” whole-heartedly, and worshiping or possessing no other gods. Moses warned the people over and again of the sin of idolatry.
I think students need to hear that warning. Of students’ many gods, the most pervasive and alluring is the idol of self, which is an entitlement (or requirement) of American culture.
Unfortunately, making an idol of the self is a self-defeating project. The self can’t handle it, can’t bear the weight of glory. The self simply isn’t built to be God.
The self is created, rather, to be a reflection of God, a small mirror of his being. So the first step in establishing a true “self,” in my view, is to connect with God and find his love. Once this divine love is in play, love of neighbor and self will follow along naturally.
This is what I wish for the students in my care. A proper sequencing of love will foster in them both humility and confidence, and allow the self to settle into its rightful place.
I’m not claiming this will solve the mental health crisis on campus. But I believe it’s a healthy place to start.
*See reports from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health