‘Mental health will consume all the resources you are willing to throw at it,’ a senior academic colleague said to me some three years ago when I raised the issue of adequate support for students in residential colleges.
If he meant that mental health outcomes will stay the same regardless of the resources provided, I can report that this has not been the case in the New College communities. One of the beauties of university residential college life is the mutual support students can give each other. With some judicious counselling support and the promotion of a caring ethos, our communities have continued to flourish over the last two years, while society more broadly has suffered a ‘shadow pandemic’ of increased anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Yet my colleague’s comments were not without foundation. As Jenny Brown writes in our lead article, despite more funding than ever being funnelled into mental health over the last decade, we are seeing an escalating crisis in mental health across Australia (mirrored globally). The need is outstripping the resources provided. In this context, Dr Brown encourages us to consider the under-utilised resources that can be found outside professional mental health services, and how to leverage protective factors as we seek to nurture people towards health and resilience.
Dr Brown also notes the well-established and positive role religion can have in preventing poor mental health—a beneficial side-effect of nurturing spiritual growth. In this issue, chaplain Rev Carl Matthei and I reflect on ways the campus and residential college ministries have sought to nurture faith in our own backyard, the University of NSW. The purpose of this article is not prescriptive, but to prompt discussion and encourage people working in this important area to share their approaches with others in similar situations.
Used well, digital connectedness can support nurture. Many of us experienced this first hand during the recent lockdowns and border closures. Speaking in New College earlier this year, CEO of Hear for You, David Brady, also highlighted the significant benefits of social media for isolated disability communities for whom collaboration would otherwise not be possible.
Yet some of the greatest challenges currently facing people—especially young people— relate to their being constantly online. In a confronting article, Melinda Tankard Reist documents the predatory behaviours and pornography use facilitated by social media. Technology has also exacerbated a shift in how younger people view authority, as the technological expertise of the young outstrips that of their elders. Kamal Weerakoon argues that it is now considered acceptable and even appropriate to reject traditional knowledge sources in deference to the authority of internal feelings and desires. The destructive fallout of the trends identified by both these authors is already clearly evident, but there is hope, and each points us to ways we can promote communities which better support nurture and flourishing.
‘Nurture’ evokes support, help, care, and encouragement. It would be a mistake to conclude from this, though, that it consists in affirmation and protection from difficulties. True nurture prepares us to cope with the struggles as well as the joys of life. Just as flowerbeds thrive in the presence of manure, and immune systems develop resistance in contact with pathogens, so too do character and maturity develop through dealing with challenges. This wisdom encourages us towards resilient maturity, and is well known to Bible readers: ‘Endure hardship as discipline ... God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’ (Hebrews 12:7;10f)
It’s our prayer that this wisdom, and that of our authors, brings you closer to resilience and maturity, righteousness and peace.
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