Photos by Danielle Nye

By Danielle Nye

On Thursday, Oct. 8, the GPC Residence Life team hosted a mental health panel featuring Dr. Cherri Seese, an assistant professor in psychology; Dr. Phil Rasmussen, the interim campus pastor and Sarah Davison, the counseling services supervisor for the Wellness Center. Students in attendance were able to anonymously ask questions via an online forum, which panelists later answered throughout the event.

One of the first questions asked was, “How do you get a mental illness?”

Seese answered the question by explaining that people are genetical predisposed to mental health issues as 50% of it comes from your genetic makeup. The way that your environment interacts with your mental health is what causes it to worsen or not. Davison also chimed in to mention that the terms “mental illness” and “mental disorder” are not different in meaning, but neither are helpful in terms of labeling. She said that “mental health issues” is the preferred term, because of the negative connotations attached to the terms “illness” and “disorder,” which can seem isolating.

The conversation continued with many other important questions being asked, such as “What are common misconceptions surrounding mental illness in the church?”

Rasmussen responded to this question saying, “The church has a propensity towards not talking about it (mental health).” He went on to explain that many people think that mental health issues can be “prayed away,” but prayer is not a magic formula—it takes walking with those who are struggling as well.

Additionally, Rasmussen brought up the fact that people in the church who struggle with their mental health are often labeled as “unsafe” or people who ought to be avoided and not trusted, which is not fair nor is it the reality. There is a stigma in the church surrounding mental health and talking about it, which Rasmussen said should not be the case.

Another question was, “How do we deal with the fact that God may not cure our mental illnesses?”

Davison responded that we are more than our feelings and it is more complex than being “cured” or not. There is no easy fix to mental health, it is a process that must be continued over time, even the rest of one’s life—it is a matter of improving and learning to cope with issues one may be struggling with. Seese said leaning into Jesus during times of high stress has been a big help in her own mental health journey and noticing the red flags as they appear in her daily life.

Another question asked was, “How do we approach our parents with a struggle if they do not believe in mental health?”

Davison responded with three questions people should ask themselves if they are in this position:

  1. Are the parents safe?
  2. Is it helpful to you if they do believe in mental health?
  3. Is it worth the struggle of trying to make them understand or is it better to live out your story and have them join you at some point later on?

Seese agreed with Davison, adding, “I had a therapist tell me once that sometimes parents don’t give us what we want or need, but you can go find someone who can.”

The panel wrapped up with some advice on how to be there for our friends when they are struggling, such as simply being there for a friend in their time of need and sticking around if they push you away. Rasmussen also added that it is important, as a friend, to draw personal boundaries and not be afraid to seek outside help (such as a therapist or counselor) to provide further care for the person.

A final question was, “What can students do to improve their mental health?”

Multiple suggestions were given by the three speakers, namely getting good sleep, eating right, taking time to do what you love, journaling, dance, laugh, take supplements and using the Wellness Center on campus as a resource. There are counseling sessions available to students, as well as craft and chat events coming up via Zoom.

With the seasons changing, daylight hours shrinking, and school becoming more overwhelming, it is very important for students to pay attention to their mental health and take the time needed to stay at a healthy point.