Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Caring for Students
One of my greatest concerns entering the 2021-22 school year was the adverse impact the pandemic, cultural unrest, and spiritual warfare had on our students’ spiritual growth and emotional wellness. By every available national measure, stress, anxiety, and depression are rising among kids. Mental illness isn’t easy to talk about, but it touches almost all our families at one time or another. Loneliness can have an adverse impact on mental health. Research from the Barna Institute suggests younger people are more likely to experience it. For example, while 19% of Boomers experience loneliness, that number rises to 33% for Generation X, and a staggering 46% of young adults feel alone.
Earlier this semester, I worked with our Leadership Team and two gifted counselors to elevate spiritual growth and emotional wellness awareness. Both are important factors in our work with students and parents. Together, we can make a difference as we have supportive conversations and cultivate Christian community.
Last week, we hosted two Parent University events (one online and one in-person) designed to explore how we can care for our children’s emotional and spiritual health during these trying times. This week, students in grades 6-12 will have the opportunity to hear from the counseling team we put in place to help guide our work. If you would like to view the video content prepared for the students, it is posted above or available online here. We have plans to continue our work in January.
Today I want to encourage all of us to take a moment and think about emotional wellness through the lens of the Bible. In 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah, one of God’s prophets, struggling with anxiety and depression. History teaches us that these challenges are no respecter of person or position. Pastors, teachers, and Christian leaders of all types have struggled with mental health. My dad was one of the most deeply devoted Christ-followers I’ve ever known, yet he struggled with bouts of depression throughout decades of Christian ministry. Pastor Eric Geiger teaches some powerful lessons from the story of Elijah. Let me share an excerpt with you.
1. Godly people struggle with anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and depression impact godly people. The Bible says, “the power of the Lord was upon Elijah.” His faith was strong, and God was using him powerfully.
2. Anxiety and depression can plague us even in the midst of great times.
Elijah had just single-handedly gone against 400 prophets of Baal, showed those watching that God was real, and God sent a downpour to end a drought. Everything was going great, and yet a few verses later, Elijah is running for his life.
3. Anxiety and depression are complex because we are complex.
When the angel approached Elijah, the angel did not offer Elijah simple or trite answers for Elijah’s depression. There is no “Just get over it” or “Read the Bible more” in the passage. We are complex beings.
4. God meets us where we are.
In this Bible story, we see God speaking to Elijah in a gentle whisper. Some scholars have pointed out that wind and earthquakes are indications of His judgment or His miraculous power. He often speaks in acts of power, but when we are bruised and beaten, He comes to us in a gentle manner. He soothes us, comforts us.
5. We can still struggle after being in the very presence of God.
After the still small voice beautiful moment, Elijah says the same thing to God, “I am the only one left.” We know that God can speak our struggles away. He can heal in a moment fully and completely. God can remove anxiety just like He can heal cancer, but often He does not. Often healing is a process, and sometimes we are not healed in this world.
The weight of anxiety can leave us feeling overwhelmed. The burden of depression can steal our joy. The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, described his battle with anxiety and depression this way: “You might as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet, all-beclouding hopelessness …Yet troubled the man is, even in the very depths of his spirit, it needs a heavenly hand to push it back … nothing short of this will chase away the nightmare of the soul.”
Ephesians 6 tells us this: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Will you join me in praying that our children, teachers, families, and entire school community will link arms and care for one another and seek God’s face like never before? He will hear and answer our prayers. Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel.
Steve D. Whitaker, Ph.D.
Head of School