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The key to surviving the latest epidemic

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Worried little girl wearing a white knit cap biting her lower lip (Credit: Ignas Kukenys from Vilnius, Lithuania via en.wikipedia.org)

Anxiety is now the number one student complaint on college campuses.  According to today’s NPR website, the average college counseling center sees about 10 percent of the student body each year, an all-time high.  More students are dealing with anxiety than ever before, in part due to financial stress and struggles in the job market.

The problem is not isolated to college campuses: the rate of children diagnosed by a doctor with mental health conditions has nearly doubled in the last five years.  Graduate students are increasingly stressed as well.  According to The Wall Street Journal, M.B.A. graduates are facing soaring loan costs and lowered salaries.  Pay for graduates with entry-level experience fell at 62 percent of the schools examined; nearly 60 percent of graduates must repay loans.  More companies are hiring undergraduates at lower salaries, then training them in-house.  And more are looking for graduates from abroad as they expand global operations.  It all adds up to anxiety at historic highs.

It is now estimated that two billion people worldwide, one-third of the global population, suffer from brain-based health and productivity challenges.  The related cost burden exceeds $2 trillion.  Stress costs the U.S. more than $300 billion each year in health care, missed work, and stress reduction efforts.  As a result, brain health is expected to be a $3 billion industry by 2015 and double to $6 billion by 2020.

What are we to make of this shocking rise in anxiety and other mental health conditions?  The increase is due in part to a lessened stigma associated with these problems, so that more people are seeking help than before.  But there’s no question that the global economy, threat of terrorism, and recent disasters have taken their toll.

I believe another factor is at work as well.  Peace is the antithesis of anxiety.  It is also one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22).  This fact means that true peace is received from God’s Spirit and in no other way.  Self-sufficiency leads inevitably to stress, Spirit-sufficiency to peace.

C. S. Lewis observed that “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine.  A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else.  Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself.  He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.  There is no other.  That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion.  God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”

Is God’s peace yours today?  If not, why not?