To Be or Not To Be? This is the question many college students ask themselves, and the question has absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare 101! For over a decade, the Centers for Disease Control lists suicide as one of the leading causes of death among college students in the United States. Parents, health care professionals, college administrators, and university staff desperately want to reverse this trend. Churches, too, need to be aware of the challenge and join the battle against it.
A recent study on campus suicide noted several important causal factors, which include
- anxiety over academic performance;
- loss of family and peer support;
- lack of self confidence, self worth;
- alcohol and/or substance abuse;
- eating disorders;
- economic pressures;
- lack of time management skills; and
- feeling overwhelmed.
So what can your congregation do to help the young people who left for college just a few weeks ago?
Begin at the beginning—the beginning of high school, that is! Involve students and their parents in discussions about scholastic expectations, potential college stressors, eating disorders, the dangers of gambling, the problem of credit card debt and over-spending, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and other issues common among college students.
In short, do all you can to open the lines of communication between young people and their parents, as well as between students and other adult Christian mentors.
Once teens enter college, continue to offer support:
- Regularly text, tweet, and e-mail students to let them know you are praying for them—and then, really do pray!
- Send care packages filled with homemade cookies, coins for use in campus washers and dryers, and notes with Scripture-based encouragements.
- Include college attendees on your church’s prayer chain or weekly prayer lists.
- Talk with parents of college students about how things are going. You may pick up warning signs that a parent might miss.
- Mail birthday and other holiday cards. Be sure to write in Bible passages that reflect Christ’s constant presence and protection.
- Phone students to let them know you are thinking about them and praying for them. Midterm and end-of-term are especially important times for this!
- Encourage your church’s college students to stay connected to one another—even if they attend different universities. (No one better understands what a freshman is experiencing than another freshman!)
- Urge parents to notify appropriate university personnel if they suspect substance abuse, problems with alcohol, or issues with gambling. Do the same if you are concerned about an eating disorder.
- If you become aware of a student in crisis, urge the young person to contact the campus counseling offices. If the student is not able to do this on her own, locate phone numbers and counselor names yourself and share this information with the student.
- Be available—to receive phone calls, texts, e-mails, or other communication from college students. Let them know that you want to hear from them and that you pray for them. Listen. Encourage. Pray together.
Working together with families and young adults, your church can have a positive impact on college students.
Editor’s note: Items in CTA’s care ministry line might be helpful as you minister to the college students in your church. Check them out!
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