One of the most frequent complaints our staff hear is the level of anxiety and stress students to whom they minister are experiencing. It is no surprise. Many students are raised in a performance-based culture where success is the most important value. They have heard this all their lives from parents, siblings, friends, and relatives.
Often, there is a corresponding issue of anger at the amount of pressure they experience. When this anger is stuffed down inside, it manifests itself as depression. Characteristic of depression is loss of appetite, loss of sleep, and general malaise which only makes the circumstances worse. When depression hurts long enough, students consider any way to relieve the stress and emotional pain—even suicide.
For Christian students, we can teach them verses like I Corinthians 10:13 or Philippians 4:6-8 to learn to discipline their thinking. And we can ask them to call us when they are struggling.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (NIV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. (NIV)
For students not yet believers, we can comfort them and encourage them with good listening and our presence. We can share stories of how the Lord has ministered to us in times of stress and depression by focusing on his love and omnipotence over the circumstances of life. However, when depression and suicidal thoughts persist, we are responsible to help them get the professional help they need. The universities often offer such help free to students, but it may be necessary to take the student to a local emergency care center for medical help. Do not take lightly persistent depression and suicidal thoughts. In cases of suicidal thoughts, ask the student for a promise that they will call you before doing harm to themselves. Most students will honor such a promise.
Principles cited in this blog: Stress and anxiety are normal for international students. Persistent depression and suicidal thoughts require immediate professional assistance.
Application for ISI ministry: Great listening and appropriate presence in the lives of international students give us an opportunity to be there in times of crisis for them. We know or can learn quickly what the local resources are for help in times of deep emotional crises.
Next blog topic: Final exams and how to help
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson