Côte d'Ivoire: Tackling student mental health with theology and the sciences

Depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety about relationships, academic work, and finances were some of the issues that Nina, a PhD student in Côte D’Ivoire, identified among students. Her findings are part of a mental health project she launched a year ago in partnership with GBUCI, her national movement. While these issues may sound familiar to many students, in Côte D’Ivoire, such challenges are aggravated by poverty, unemployment, and experiences of violence and human rights violations.

“Mental health has taken its toll on students in my country yet there is little awareness about it,” observes Nina. Worldwide, the mental health crisis among young people has been flagged by the World Health Organizaton, as well as IFES in its Global Trends Report.

Nina’s call to action followed from her involvement with the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). Through this IFES program, she has received training, mentoring, and funding to design and implement a project drawing together biblical and scientific perspectives to promote good mental health among students.

Over the last year, Nina has conducted research and surveys to better understand the situation; organized awareness-raising conferences for students and churches; and partnered with local mental health NGOs to provide free counselling and mental health support to students at her university.

“This project is not only about mental health promotion,” explains Nina. “It is also based on the salvation and freedom that the Lord Jesus Christ gives us through his death on the cross. We want this project to be both a civic and theological commitment for us to take part in God’s purpose of binding all things together in him.”

This project is not only about mental health promotion… We want this project to be both a civic and theological commitment for us to take part in God’s purpose of binding all things together in him.

Nina, LCI Catalyst in Côte D’Ivoire

In October, GBUCI students, together with General Secretary Mathieu Guei, refurbished a room at Nina’s university to use as a “listening space.” In November and December, the transformed room was used for counselling sessions delivered by a professional psychologist.

“Students reported finding peace in their relationships, inner peace, and a change of self-perspective,” Nina says.

Alongside professional mental health support, Nina trained Christian students to provide peer support, while also equipping volunteers to lead Bible studies and public debates about mental health.

In one Bible study, titled A depressed and suicidal hero, students considered the story of the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19 and learned about some of the internal and external factors around depression and biblical ways to handle it.

“Students have realised that God cares about their mental health,” Nina says. “They have learned that they can turn to him and that he responds to our situations of distress and disorder.”

Nina is one of 18 participants in 15 countries across Francophone Africa and Latin America who have led Logos and Cosmos Initiative projects over the last year. The LCI equips graduate students and young academics – known as “Catalysts” – to lead theology and the sciences projects, many of which tackle pressing issues such as climate change, poverty, violence, and injustice.

Many Catalysts like Nina have now applied to scale up and expand their projects in Year Three of the LCI program, beginning in April. Meanwhile, the LCI’s cohort of “Tier One” Catalysts, after finishing a year of training in theology and the sciences, have submitted project proposals for funding consideration and implementation from April onwards. Next month the LCI will also welcome a fresh cohort of Catalysts for a year of training and development.

For more on LCI projects, view a photo gallery of highlights, read summaries, and watch videos here. You can also subscribe to the LCI’s quarterly newsletter.

Let’s pray for Nina and the Logos and Cosmos Initiative:

  • Pray for restoration and hope for students struggling with mental health issues.
  • Pray for wisdom for LCI selection committees as they decide which projects and Catalysts to accept into Year Three.
  • Pray that the new or expanded LCI projects starting in April will help bring gospel-centred change to universities and wider communities.

Nina Ble Toualy became interested in her project topic while studying for a PhD in criminology; read more about her journey in the 2021 Prayerline story.

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