Hannah Streitmatter’s dorm room boasts an impressive wall filled with dozens of smiling photos adjacent to her bed. Pictures of her closest friends and family smile down on her as she sleeps, a constant reminder of her momentary happiness forever frozen in a fleeting second where she was finally distracted from her depression. However, this morning—like so many others—she struggles to even roll over in bed to see her happier moments memorialized just six inches above her head. Instead of initially waking up, she crawls deeper into her ocean-blue sheets and searches for courage there. Streitmatter, a Junior Psychology student at Point Loma Nazarene University, says that waking up with depression “feels like there’s an anchor on my chest.” She adds that getting the strength to go to chapel or class in the morning is one thing, but finding a familiar face to freely discuss depression among her Christian counterparts is another.
Streitmatter says living with her diagnosis doesn’t just affect her as a Christian, but it also makes it hard to be a student.
“My condition affects my concentration and my energy level,” she says. “That makes it hard sometimes to get out of bed in the morning…trying to focus [on homework] is near impossible, so it pretty much strips away your motivation.”
Streitmatter attends therapy outside of PLNU to treat her mental health diagnosis, but stresses that mental health can carry an unnecessary stigma and it took over a year to finally see a medical professional.
An informal survey done at PLNU found over 75% of students who responded have reported a negative encounter with seeking help on campus. Such issues mentioned included the need to pay after a certain amount of counseling visits, the fear of judgment and distrust in confidentiality.
The study finds at least 60% of these students are living with some sort of mental health disability, but only 30% of these students have actually sought help from Wellness Center. In fact, the overwhelming majority of students polled would only speak on their mental health experiences anonymously, citing “judgment” and “stigma” as their main concern.
Psychology professor Tim Hall says many students struggle in admitting mental health issues due to their conflict in faith. “Students feel like they’re not trusting God enough, or they’re embarrassed because they feel like they’re weird, or that when people find out that they have [depression] it’ll freak those out who don’t understand it,” he says.
Sophomore Biology major Becca Salgado claims that denying depression is not only disadvantageous, but also directly contrary to Christian teachings.
“Coming to Loma, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to talk about my depression,” she says. “Point Loma offers so many resources regarding how to grow in your faith, but what about addressing the topic of suffering? Christianity isn't this perfect, romanticized fairy tale. It involves struggle…wanting to give up, and ultimately grace and mercy when going through those times.”
Hall states that the stigma surrounding mental health stems from the difficulties in diagnosing an “invisible” disability.
“Mental illness is not where you look at someone and say, ‘oh hey, there’s your answer,’” he says. “How did people become mentally ill? Was it a trauma, was it genetics [or] was it nature/nurture? That’s why it’s so complex…if we can’t get answers a lot of times we run from it.”
“I think people are afraid because [depression] seems like a weakness,” Streitmatter says. “It’s almost as if you don’t have control over your own mind, and I think that lack of control freaks people out…it’s scary to admit your weakness—especially in a school setting—that you can’t control your own mind.”
Hall believes that a vision of what Christianity looks like can inadvertently be detrimental to people who are in need of mental medical help, claiming that mentally ill people can still be phenomenal Christians.
“Being mentally ill doesn’t have anything to do with your Christianity,” Hall says. “It doesn’t determine whether you are [Christian] or you’re not…students will say, ‘well I don’t believe I’m trusting God enough to help me if I’m taking meds,’ where I believe if you are prescribed meds by a health care professional in that area, that’s an extension of God’s grace to you if you can take it.”
Streitmatter can attest to the struggles surrounding medication.
“People try to tell me, ‘try to be more positive, be more grateful for things in your life,’ but those things aren’t possible when you have a chemical depression because your brain physically cannot think positively.” Streitmatter takes several different types of medication both morning and night, but claims that there was a lengthy trial-and-error process to finding which medications worked best with her. Although medications are specifically made to target these chemical brain imbalances, upkeep and doctor appointments are reportedly difficult on a student budget and schedule.
Not only are college students at higher risk of going untreated for mental health issues, but in this integral time of their lives where they learn to become independent, college students are also increasingly unwilling to seek help. According to a 2009 study published in the US National Library of Medicine in PubMed, doctors found that “mental disorders are prevalent and persistent in a student population. While the majority of students with probable disorders are aware of the need for treatment, most of these students do not receive treatment, even over a two-year period (Zivin et al).”
According to Streitmatter, “if there’s anything I could tell myself [before], it would be to give yourself grace. Let people help you.”
Taking care of oneself should be just as integral to a PLNU student as his or her faith. The majority of PLNU students are currently living with a mental illness of some kind, yet too many students don’t speak on their mental health due to fear of not seeming “Christian enough” or that no one will understand. Mental health disabilities are not only common but they are also curable. The PLNU community has the funds and resources available to educate students on the advantages of receiving help while tailoring their views to a Christian standpoint. If PLNU wants students to receive the grace they so desperately desire, students should first know that they are worthy of it.
Hall, T. (2017, April 3). [Personal interview]. Professor of Psychology
at PLNU in SanDiego, CA.
Salgado, B. (n.d.). [Online interview]. Biology student in PLNU.
Streitmatter, H. (2017, March 29). [Personal interview]. Student of Psychology at PLNU and main source.
Zivin K, Eisenberg D, Gollust SE, Golberstein E J Affect Disord. 2009 Oct;117(3):180-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2009.01.001. Epub 2009 Jan 28