The intersection between spirituality and mental health is a complex concept and something that everyone may come across in their lifetime but not discuss openly. The University of Maine’s Wilson Center recently provided a platform to tackle that issue in one of their “Come to the Table” events.
The monthly events, hosted at the Wilson Center, are usually structured around a hearty meal followed by a discussion, craft or movie. Discussions start in one large group with guiding questions and then break off into smaller groups for more in-depth dialogue. Some of the topics covered in the past have been happiness, feasting and fasting, mystical experiences, religion and sex, welcoming differences and clarifying misconceptions about Islam.
The center strives to create a safe and inclusive environment — and achieves that through offering vegan and vegetarian meal options, as well as cultivating discussion based on respect and understanding of all people. Their mission statement reads, “The Wilson Center is an independent, progressive religious & spiritual voice on campus. Our most central value is the equality of all people — we welcome people of all genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, races, religions, ethnicities, abilities and economic backgrounds. We believe that we as a community and as individuals are enriched by diversity. We welcome seekers, agnostics, questioners, atheists and traditional believers. We welcome interfaith and multicultural events of all kinds.”
Baidehi Roy, a Ph. D. candidate in forestry, says she’s been attending the events regularly because the welcoming and judgment-free environment cultivates “a place where I can make great friends.”
This past Wednesday, roughly 20 people, including students from UMaine and local community members, gathered to enjoy a meal of chili, cornbread and salad before delving into the topic of mental wellness. Everyone there was in agreement that mental well-being is something that everyone will deal with in their lifetime at some point or another and many people in attendance had dealt with struggles in the past or know someone who has. Some were even still struggling and sought solace and advice from the discussion.
The opening question of the night asked participants describe in a few short words what comes to mind when you hear the term mental health. The responses ranged from positivity and the pursuit of happiness, to self-care and proactivity. But along with answers of hope came answers of judgement, with some answering shame, struggles and challenges.
After breaking up into small groups, people began to confide how their spirituality has affected their perception of mental health. People with backgrounds in Catholicism, Atheism, Judaism and more all agreed while the attitude about those struggling with mental wellness has improved, it still has a ways to go as well.
That being said, people still expressed the sentiment that taking care of your own mental health should be a priority. “Every day I say thank you for another day,” Sam Cruss, a third-year sustainable agriculture major, said. “Thank you for the sun, thank you for the trees, thank you for the wind, thank you for the food in the cupboard. Positive thoughts can make all the difference.” Cruss strives to live by this positive mantra routinely.
“Helping other people helps me when I’m not feeling good myself,” third-year child development major Danielle Gluckman said about how she copes with her mental health. “Focusing my energy on something positive, like helping a friend with something, in turn creates something positive for myself.”
To round out the night, the group congregated once more in a large circle and went around sharing their favorite methods of self-care. Talking with loved ones, exercise, writing, listening to music and mediating were just a few of the given answers. One person even replied that coming to the Wilson Center’s events was their personal self-care technique, citing its friendly and comforting environment as a means to feeling more stable and wholesome.
The next “Come to the Table” event will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29, with the discussion topic surrounding sympathy versus empathy.