Hope breaks through
Mental health is a struggle to maintain, and Biola knows it. | Caroline Sommers/THE CHIMES
Your nose lifts as essential oils permeate the air, infusing your spirit with peace and calm after a long day of class and studying. Puppies joyfully run as students with never-wavering smiles chase them down, only to scoop up the small ball of fur for cuddles.
A healthy mental break
Biola’s first annual Hope Week strove to provide what the student body desperately needed: a healthy mental break, without feelings of guilt or stress afterwards for wasting time.
In a bold move, Hope Hall exchanged their second spring semester all-hall for a week-long awareness campaign about healthy and unhealthy means by which students cope with mental illness. Whether the Hope staff knew it or not, many students achieved a long-awaited feeling of solidarity with their peers — many realized they no longer must suffer alone in their struggle and pain.
Hope South Resident Director Anne Warner spearheaded this event series, along with Hope North RD Kevin Cram. The two felt inspired by Biola’s vice president for student development Andre Stephens, who stressed the importance of talking about three elements of college culture in America today: gender and sexuality, racial reconciliation and mental health. Obviously, Cram and Warner took one and ran with it.
“In ResLife, we go back and forth between we want to provide programming that’s relevant, we want to provide programming that’s fun, that students will be interested in,” Warner said. “This is definitely a shift from the traditional all-hall, but this is a necessary shift, and hopefully — residence life as a department — we will kind of all shift this way, toward more relevant programming in our buildings.”
Healthy coping methods
After pitching the theory of Hope Week to her respective Resident Advisor staff, Warner was impressed with how many came forward in saying how many of their residents had told them in confidence they were struggling the same symptoms.
“I’ve worked with a mental health hospital last semester and I was amazed by how many college students went in and out of the door,” said Nataly Mehne, senior nursing and biblical studies major and RA of Hope. “Most of the people who are there are there for substance abuse, and a lot of the time what is underlying that substance abuse is uncontrolled stress. Those are the coping mechanisms that people have turned to.”
One of the largest topics of the week will be coping mechanisms, according to Warner. The most dangerous time in a person’s life to develop poor coping habits to mental illness is when those illnesses are triggered and pass unaddressed.
“I meet with so many students whose lives are crippled by mental health issues… Who are really struggling with depression, anxiety, with eating disorders, OCD, with a number of things that develop in college and just take over. Countless students who feel so alone, who feel so afraid, who feel very ashamed in their struggles, they feel embarrassed that they cope with things the way they do: the prevalence of really poor coping skills like pornography and binge-eating and Netflix and technology,” Warner said.
Education and encouragement
By providing students with more proactive and healthy means of coping with stress — like coloring books, yoga, dogs and naps — the Hope staff aspires to educate as well as encourage attendees that they are not alone in their struggles. In addition, gaining practical ways to help oneself in times of overwhelming anxiety and stress carries on through the rest of one’s life.
“By students getting the time to acknowledge this and get tangible ways of, ‘How do I help myself? When I’m really stressed or I feel like I can’t do today, how can I take a breath and get skills that will help me?’” said Lauren Lazatin, sophomore elementary education major and RA of Hope. “That’s going to be useful in any kind of situation, no matter where you end up. It’s a matter of these just being good life skills to have.”