PHILADELPHIA (BP) — Some winters are harsher than others, and for university students they can be especially challenging, says Brian Musser, Baptist campus minister at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa.
Every January, as he prepares for the return of college students for the winter term, he finds himself praying harder and asking for more prayer for the students because of the depression and pressure that often seems to accompany the cold season.
“More students are prone to suicide during the months of January and February,” explained Musser, who noticeably feels the pressure of caring for those under his charge. He has served as a campus minister for more than 13 years and has done more student memorials during the month of February than any other time of the year.
“I am really glad I am here to help the university through these things,” he noted, his apparent sadness showing as he spoke.
Suicide deaths are an issue all year long, he explained. But for many who weren’t socially able to handle the new life changes, it happens during their first months of the academic year. During winters, suicides occur more due to “an extended hopelessness over the weary months.”
He stressed his hope, nonetheless: “Through Christ, there are so many misdeeds that students can recover from — as long as they preserve their lives!”
Musser related three areas where he monitors students’ wellbeing during the winter months: academically, relationally and weather-related.
Academically, there is “a confluence of multiple struggles, especially for freshmen” who find college much harder than high school and receive their first college grades during this time, he said.
“They naturally want to do better academically, but if they struggle again, this completely knocks the hope out of them,” he shared.
Upperclassmen may face graduation concerns due to poor grades and/or schedule issues.
In addition, the winter months present the “hardest grind of the year,” he said, noting how few days off many students experience in this time frame.
Relationally, Christmas break is often the first time freshmen reengage with their families since experiencing their independence at college. Things can be awkward when returning home. Families fight. High school sweethearts break up.
“Going home for Christmas brings up a lot of relational issues,” Musser said. Alternatively, students from families who don’t struggle may come back to school and feel lonely again.
Concerning the weather, Musser acknowledged the prevalent human response to the lack of light and always being indoors. And many rural students may not know what to do outdoors in a city, he said. The lack of outdoor activity can lead to fully investing in the party scene with excessive binge drinking and substance abuse, exacerbating their social and emotional problems.
“Pray for students — and campus workers — who you know,” he urged. “Give them a random call during these months…. To tell you the truth, grandmother care packages still work!”
Mostly, Musser asks that people pray that students will be drawn to Christ during these confusing times in their lives. “Please pray!” he stressed.
To pray specifically for Drexel University students, email Musser at [email protected]