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Community members find mental health relief in spirituality

Texture courtesy of Unsplash.

This article is part of the Mental Health Collaborative, a project completed by nine North Carolina college newsrooms to cover mental health issues in their communities. To read more stories about mental health, explore the interactive project developed specifically for this collaborative.

UNC junior Jordan Mabry said she remembers the first time she recognized the connection between her spirituality and mental well-being.

During her first semester at UNC, she faced three exams within a week — but rather than spending all of her time studying, she pushed herself to take time for her spiritual practices. 

“I just feel like the weight of everything was lifted off my shoulders,” Mabry said. “And it just kind of put it in perspective. I’m at college not just for the academics, but also to make these connections.” 

Mabry is now a small group leader for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, where she said she cultivates a religious environment where like-minded students can build relationships with one another and be themselves. 

Campus director of UNC Hillel, Nikki Michaelson, described her organization as a place for community building within all forms of Judaism, where Jewish students can find support in others and in their own spirituality. 

“I think UNC Hillel is such a beautiful place for all students to come and bring their whole selves,” Michaelson said. “We’re a pluralistic community and really embrace students exactly as they are, and I think that to be seen for all parts of yourself is really powerful and can do a lot for mental health.” 

Community gatherings aren’t the only form of mental health support offered by religious and spiritual organizations.  

Michaelson said that in times of extreme stress, UNC Hillel has brought in mental health professionals from the outside Jewish community to support students on campus. She said that the organization prides itself on connecting students to resources when needed. 

Volunteer chaplain Imam Abdul Hafeez Waheed acts as a leader and advisor for the UNC Muslim Student Association and previously ran a mental health agency in Durham. He said his job is to help provide religious counseling and direction, as well as to help Muslim students navigate university life. 

“Spirituality has a natural place in the life of human beings, and it has the ability to help mental health issues that people may have,” he said. 

Waheed said the Quran helped him understand his purpose, as well as the purpose of all humans. 

“So, as a young man, I didn’t know,” he said. “I was walking in the dark, and when I found religion, it helped me to identify my purpose and keep me on track.” 

Some religious centers in the Triangle have partnered with mental health professionals to provide affordable care for those in surrounding communities. 

The Well Mental and Spiritual Care was launched by executive director Amanda Rigby on Jan. 25 of this year. The new nonprofit, located in downtown Raleigh, provides affordable and accessible mental and spiritual care to promote healing and wellness in the community, Rigby said. 

The Well offers therapy and counseling, spiritual direction and community classes to people from all religious and spiritual backgrounds, Rigby said. For her, mental health and spirituality are deeply intertwined

She said they involve many of the same things — emotions, relationships and perceptions of the world. 

“And a lot of times — and this is good news — if you care for your mental health, it also works that your spirituality will benefit from that, and the same goes the other way around in my experience,” she said.

For those who are struggling with their mental health, Rigby had a few words of advice. 

“Even doing the research might feel like too big of a step,” Rigby said. “And that’s when I think the first step, if you can’t even get there — just talk to one other person. Just tell one other person what you’re experiencing, what you’re feeling, how you’re struggling, how you’re suffering and let them know — and invite that person to be an advocate for you.” 

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