New book reopens campus talks on emotional health

Last June, President Ryken’s new book, “When Trouble Comes,” was published, adding to the lengthy list of titles which already fall under his name as author. The most personal of them all, this new addition is one of four books that Ryken has published based on his own past chapel series.
It’s been more than two years since Ryken began his chapel series bearing the same name as his new book: “When Trouble Comes.” At academic convocation for the 2014-2015 school year, Ryken introduced the theme of that year’s president’s series with a message entitled “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
“It was the spring semester of the academic year,” Ryken began, “and I was in trouble.”
The talk that followed stepped outside the norms of most chapel messages, revealing Ryken’s own struggles with discouragement, doubt and a “downward spiral” of emotional health. It was a message that sent ripples throughout the Wheaton community, opening up conversations about mental health and its treatment on campus.
The newly published book broadens the biblical messages on suffering from that chapel series to a wider audience, as well as providing Ryken’s personal story of struggle to a larger public of alumni and community members. Choosing suffering as the theme for that year’s series was “really something that I wanted to do,” Ryken said, describing the process of choosing a theme as “both prayerful and providential.”
“To me it was highly motivating and also, in a way, healing to think about teaching on times of trouble,” Ryken said.
Though his personal story makes up just one installment of the chapel series and one chapter in the book, the publication of “When Trouble Comes” serves as a reminder, to many students, of the significance of Ryken’s decision to open his story to the student body at Wheaton. According to Aly Vukelich — a 2016 Wheaton graduate who served as the EVP of Student Care when Ryken’s message was delivered in chapel — the effect of the president’s honesty and humility was “palpable.”
“To see our very own president be humbled enough to share about his struggles made it freeing to share about our own struggles with others,” Vukelich said.It really shifted the vision I had for my role as EVP of Student Care that year. I became much more aware that I needed to, first and foremost, hear as many people’s stories as I could in order to do my job effectively.”
Senior Jack McHenney, the current EVP of student care, shared the thoughts of his predecessor on the impact of Ryken’s message, stating that in sharing his story Ryken “modeled vulnerability to the entire school.”
Junior Emily Tsen shared McHenney’s sentiments regarding the subsequent impact of Ryken’s message. “I think that Dr. Ryken’s testimony played a very important role in decreasing the stigma around mental health on campus,” Tsen said. “Because of him, Wheaton has been a lot more open about emotional health issues since then.”
Tsen is a member of Lighthouse, an on-campus support group for students which Tsen describes as “the place where I know it’s okay to not be okay.” The group deals regularly with the issue of openness and mental health at Wheaton. This is something which Ryken described as an “area of growth” for the campus, noting that students today are far more likely to seek out help and support than students a generation ago. However, the process of change regarding Wheaton’s own conversation about emotional health is ongoing. Though “When Trouble Comes” is a piece of that discussion, a consensus seems to exist that there is room for further growth in this area.
“Many students would agree that mental health issues are important to be aware of on-campus,” McHenney said. “The next step of cultivating a gracious curiosity towards whose experiences we hardly understand is one that many students have yet to take.”
Ryken shares the sentiments of his students, looking to Wheaton as a place where a community of support can and should be fostered.
“I still think there’s a strong temptation to want to put up a good front for how things are going,” Ryken said. “I don’t think people need to share in-depth in all of their relationships, but I do think we need to have some places where people know us at a heart-level and where we can share what we’re struggling with.”

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