When Life Is Too Good

Thanks to Ken for sending me this article from the Wall Street Journal, which discusses the skyrocketing numbers of students seeking mental-health services from colleges across the US.  On the surface, it seems as though more and more college students have difficulty coping with life or college or a combination of the two.

But the article doesn’t clarify adequately what the numbers mean.  If mental-health staff are actively promoting their services and luring students to come by to pet service dogs, and if students are attracted by the “warmth and accessibility”, and if these centers are reaching students that would not otherwise have sought them out, does this accurately portray a greater need among students for mental health services?   If a student misses their dog at home and comes to the mental-health center to pet a therapy dog, does that mean the student needs therapy?  Why not just allow dogs in dorm rooms?

The article also doesn’t make any attempt to ask why students are increasingly feeling alone and inadequate to the tasks that face them in life.  I can’t help but wonder whether the rising levels of young people with little or no religious/church experience – the nones – are correspondent to a rise in levels of people looking for things that used to be gained through religious practice.  In other words, does religious belief (and in America, that overwhelmingly has meant Christianity) provide benefits which, when absent, leave people vulnerable, anxious, worried?  If students are looking for warmth and accessibility, it seems that congregations near campuses could be reaching out to these students through activities that are not – initially – specifically religious.  If members show up every evening with their pets for a play-time, does that qualify the pets as therapy pets?  Mid-week, home-cooked meals and times where students could sit in a home with a family and eat them have always been a great blessing to many college students.  Must love and care and compassion be reduced to a clinical diagnosis?

College is a stressful time for many students.  The drive to do well, the awareness of the huge costs they personally or their families are undertaking to make college possible, the growing list of things that are necessary to do in order to leave not with just a degree but a robust resume, all of these things are stressful.  But they seem to be distinctly first-world, self-created and self-perpetuated issues as well.  Not that they aren’t real, but they are real because of a very small bubble of possibility and prosperity.  Outside that bubble, stress and the problems of life quickly take on much more dramatic and lethal dimensions, as this article about the torture and execution of Christians by ISIS illustrates.

Stress is stress, and the causes and reactions to it are likely defined primarily by our culture and society – what is considered normal and reasonable.  But it’s bitterly ironic that people are willing to suffer horrendous things and die in humiliation for their belief in Jesus as the Son of God, while here such beliefs are seen as irrelevant despite the many warning signs in our culture to the contrary.


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