The Gap Decade Released this Week: FREE Sneak Peek!

You’re connected to After College Transition because you want the best resources for equipping students to thrive in their post-college journeys. I’m excited to share about a new IVP title that just released this week!

If you haven’t seen The Gap Decade by Katie Schnack, you need to add it to your must-read/must-recommend list for anyone you know who is in the process of “adulting.” They are not alone!

I had the honor of endorsing The Gap Decade (see my shameless plug below). This book will keep you turning pages and laughing until your sides hurt.

With complete hilarity and brutal honesty, Katie Schnack not only normalizes the awkwardness that comes with adulting, but she also inspires action; her willingness to tell the naked truth forces us to take hold of our own journeys and find hope in the struggle. Buckle up for some belly laughs and get ready for a binge read – you won’t want to put this book down!

Katie has generously agreed to share a sneak peek by including FREE access to an excerpt from Chapter 16 “Free Yourself From the Shame Around Mental Health. Because Who has the Time for Shame Anymore” (see below).

We both agree this chapter features a topic that concerns all of us who work with young people. I hope you appreciate Katie’s humor, even as she tackles a topic as serious and sensitive as mental health.

Enjoy! Don’t forget to order your copy…and a stack for all of those 20somethings you love!

Adaptation from The Gap Decade by Katie Schnack

Adapted from Chapter Sixteen, “Free Yourself From the Shame Around Mental Health. Because Who has the Time for Shame Anymore”

There is still a lot of stigma around mental illness, unfortunately. Even with all the internet positivity, awareness months, and people beginning to open up about their suffering— which are all wonderful steps—we still have a ways to go in society to be more empathetic and understanding of people who are struggling in this way. Myself included.

See, I have a stigma against my own mental illness, which is pretty ridiculous. Even writing the words “mental illness” makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s not that, not for me. I don’t have a mental illness, nah. I just get deeply sad where it hurts to exist or panic like an asthmatic ape in times of great stress. But despite how much I appreciate when others are open and honest about their struggles, I have had trouble admitting I have anxiety and depression. Which just seems silly. This is a real thing. Denying isn’t helping me, you, or the person reading this who is silently suffering and full of shame and embarrassment and confusion over why they can’t just “get it together” like everyone else appears to do on the internet. (Lies.) Personally, I am working to fight against my own self-imposed stigma in a way that is right for me. I think in situations like this, where you are trying to just manage your junk the best way possible, that is all you can do. Do what is best for you, and be kind to others along the way.

In working to fight for my health and bust through my old, creaky personal stigmas, I do a few things. I remain open about my struggles with my circle of friends, with my family, and in my writing. I don’t dwell on it or get dramatic about it, but if I am having a bad mental health day or can tell I am slipping below the surface, I tell my people. I tell my friends or Kyle, and they simply pray and listen, and it helps. And then I do everything I can to get my head above water again quickly, whether that be get some rest, exercise, change what I eat, or remember to take my medicine.

For me it’s important to be honest and open about when I’m struggling because during the times when I was hyperventilating and in so much internal pain from a panic attack I felt my soul explode or my skin hurt from the amount of depression weighing down on me, I would tell myself these lies: I am the only one. I am the only one who can’t hold it all together. Nobody else gets this nutso. What if someone saw you like this? What is wrong with you? I am the only one.

What kind of messed up internal trash talk is THAT? But when I hear or read about someone else being raw and upfront about their mental health struggles, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Every time I am reminded it isn’t just me gives me the life-giving strength to keep walking through the dark days and work toward a stronger, more stable, and truthful version of myself.

I once heard a powerful testimony of a girl who had severe onset depression during her third pregnancy and had to step away from her other two children and go receive longer, inpatient care. And when I heard that, you know what went through my mind? Not judgments. I didn’t “tsk tsk” at her like cranky Aunt Karen. Instead my heart was filled with compassion for what she walked through and the strength that must have taken to not only endure that hard season but then use it to speak to other women and inspire them.

I also thought, I get it. I get how she could get that low where she had to make the extremely difficult decision to step away from her two other little babies for a few weeks and get the help she needed. And I was so grateful she shared that story, which I know must have been so challenging for her to do. But I needed to hear about her dark days, then her strength and triumph as she stepped back into the light, and I am sure other women listening that day did too. And I realized if I can have compassion and empathy for her and her story, I certainly should try to do the same for myself.

Being reminded that it isn’t just me who has low moments is life giving. I need all the reminders, folks. And if you are struggling with mental health right now, here is a loving piece of written proof it isn’t just you either. It can feel so isolating, so hopeless, but it isn’t. Next time you are lying face down in the kitchen crying into your unwashed floor, I am right there with ya, sister. Been there, done that, cried on that floor. Used my tears to then wash it. You are not alone.

My bout of depression in Memphis was a doozy. Quite simply, it hurt to exist, and doing any tiny task took about ten times the strength and effort. I was exhausted by simply trying to function. It was pretty dang awful and scary, but mostly it just annoyed me—and my upstairs apartment neighbor who could hear me weeping.

It annoyed me because I was in that place again. I was so tired of being depressed. I was so tired of stupid panic attacks. I was so tired of having to deal with it once more and making poor Kyle have to deal with it. I wanted it gone from my life for good. I never again wanted to wake up with a chest tight with dread before my feet even hit the floor for the day. Instead, I wanted to wake up every morning and feel like a glittery Richard Simmons on a good hair day during his bestselling workout video wearing his best leotard. That is the level of life goals I aspire to. Instead, I just felt like the version of Richard Simmons who has hidden from society so long someone felt compelled to make a podcast about it. And I was mad about that.

I don’t know why people have mental health problems. I also don’t know why people get irritable bowel syndrome. But what I do know is they are both just physical illnesses that happen in your body and are usually just a product of your genes. Or jeans, if you wear them too tight and it starts to get to you. And nobody ever says if you poop weird you must be less of a Christian. Nobody shames you for not just trying to pray away your uncomfortable gas situation. The same should be true for mental health issues.

Taken from The Gap Decade  by Katie Schnack. Copyright (c) 2021 by Katilyn Marie Schnack. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

What’s Your Go-To Gift for Graduating Seniors?

I received this image above from a college minister in North Carolina who went all-out with gifts for her seniors, saying “sometimes you just have to spoil your student leaders.”

If you are already gifting After College to your seniors…or you’d like to next academic year…this is just a reminder that NOW is the time to stock up while copies are 40% + FREE US shipping (until 7/25). Order here: https://www.ivpress.com/pages/summer-reading.

Here are some other fun ideas to prime the pump!*

  • Gift book
  • School swag: branded mugs, journals, lanyards, picture frame
  • Gift of a one year membership to your alumni association
  • Personalized notes from faculty and staff
  • Framed print of a special group photo
  • Writing journal + gift card to a local coffee shop with request for your student to buy a favorite drink and journal about what God taught them over the year
  • Special pen for writing down their dreams
  • Playlist of songs that capture moments of your time together
  • Swag from this site (https://igbok.com/). We appreciate the message of IGBOK as a final thought to give to students. We gave IGBOK magnets and/or stickers (in addition to a copy After College and a personalized note for each student.)
  • I also love gifts with ampersands (&) because they symbolize that the chapter of college is coming to a close, & the story continues!

OK, your turn. What would you add to this list? What’s your go-to?

Leave a comment below, or drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!

-Erica

*This question about graduation gift ideas was posted on the Collegiate Collective Facebook Group some time ago; many of these ideas come from those who replied to that post.

Just Get Started: Something You Can Use Right Away

As promised, this next video talks about the importance of just starting somewhere. 

If you missed the first video, check that out before you watch this one. 

The video below includes ideas you can try right away. Just get started! Or, if you’re trucking along, make a commitment to take things to next level. Leave a comment below about what you’re up to or what you’re planning to try. Let’s encourage each other!

Rooting for you,

Erica 

P.S. Have you registered yet for the LIVE webinar later this week? I hope you can join me as I talk about The 3 Most Important Topics to Address with Seniors Before They Graduate.

Click here for instant access to the FREE resources I mention in the video.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below!

Is Transformation Possible?

I’m rolling out some FREE, fun things this week, and this video below is the first!

When it comes to equipping students for life after college, it’s easy to doubt our own efforts. We may wonder: Are we even making a difference?

In this video, I talk about how we started small. Very small. We didn’t quite know what we were doing, and we certainly doubted if we were making a difference.

But things didn’t stay that way forever.

I hope this video encourages you to get started or keep going, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant your attempts may feel right now.

Growth and transformation in your own work — and in the lives of students — is possible!

Don’t forget to leave a comment below, and subscribe on the right if you don’t want to miss out on the next video.

I’d love to hear from you!

-Erica

PS: Oh, one more thing you won’t want to miss: I’m hosting a FREE, live webinar later this week on The 3 Most Important Topics to Address with College Seniors Before They Graduate. Check it out, and hope to see you there!

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Equipping Students for Life After College

Click here for FREE access to downloadable PDF.

Many years ago, when my team and I started equipping students to thrive after college, we felt like we were creating in the dark. There were not many resources out there – for students or for those who work with them. We did a lot of building from the ground up, spun our wheels many times, and learned from the burn. 

I want to save you time and the frustration of spinning your wheels. Or, if you’re trucking along, I want to help you maximize your efforts and bring them to the next level. 

If you want to learn some of the pitfalls leaders should watch out for as well as how to turn the opposite actions into best practices, check out the attached PDF: 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Equipping Students for Life after College. Click here, so you can discover what they are. 

Oh, one more thing. There’s more good stuff on the way! Keep your eyes on your inbox so you don’t miss out. 🙂

Now is the time to prepare students to thrive after college!

Rooting for you,

-Erica 

Are You Turning This Perceived Weakness into a Strength for Students?

Let me guess: Often, you feel like you’re in an uphill battle. You’re trying to convince students to take advantage of resources you have to offer, but they don’t know what they don’t know, so they opt out.

I get it. I’ve been just as frustrated, but I’ve also learned that there’s something we can do about it.

Instead of blaming students, we can work to alter their perceptions and normalize the help-seeking process for them.

Do your students perceive the need for help as something for the weak, remedial, or those who can’t figure things out on their own?

Let’s work to change this perceived weakness into a strength!

Successful Students Seek Help

In Thriving in Transitions, one of the contributors, Jillian Kinzie, talks about the importance of normalizing the help-seeking process for students. She writes,

“Students in transition need to not know only the campus resources that are available and how to access them, but also that successful students seek out those resources(p. 15).

Let’s show our students that strong and successful people seek out help.

Normalizing the Help-Seeking Process

Alumni panels are great place to feature individuals who have sought help along the way to their success.

I’ll never forget the time one of our alumnae panelists shared how she started seeing a personal counselor during her first year out of college. Her parents recent divorce coupled with the many stressors of the transition brought her to a place need. Sasha’s* vulnerability on the panel led to a student approaching me later on, confessing that she too had been struggling with a similar situation of her own parent’s divorce, among other issues. She asked, “Where can I get some professional help?”

When we normalize the help-seeking process, struggling students feel empowered to get what they need to thrive.

Putting This into Practice

If you are not in these roles already, show your students that successful students…

  • …seek out professors during office hours. These visits can foster academic success and build relational capital, which is crucial for life after college.
  • …seek out career and calling services/centers on campus. Help students avoid the April panic (Oh no! I’m graduating, and I don’t have a job!), and preemptively invite students into a career preparation process.
  • …seek out multi-generational relationships at church or elsewhere. Life after college is filled with generational diversity. Let’s prepare our students by encouraging cross-generational connections now.

Can you invite some former students to share how the help-seeking process has shaped them into the thriving alumni they are today?

I’m taking my own advice, and I invited two former ENGL 15 students to share their experiences with my current writing students this week. These two students made the most of the resources available to them; I want to show my current students that strong students seek help!

What’s one way you plan to normalize the help-seeking process for your students? Leave a comment below!

P.S. Speaking of help-seeking, where are you stuck when it comes to equipping students to thrive after college? I’m here to help! I’d love to chat for 15-20 minutes. Click here, and we’ll find a time!

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Are You Prepared to Respond to Students’ Mental Health Issues?

I’m the daughter of a psychiatric social worker. Conversations about mental health issues – especially acute cases (like a client who ate cigarettes or an ER patient who consumed a bottle of Clorox) – were not uncommon at mealtimes growing up. For nearly my entire life my dad worked at a county clinic (which later privatized) while also serving on-call for the local hospital. He had a pager (yes, this was the 90s) which beeped when the emergency room needed him to come in to conduct a psychiatric evaluation. More often than not he wasn’t called out, and we joked about his pretty sweet gig: “sleeping for dollars.”

Until recently. Within the last ten year or so, there has not been a single night during which my dad has slept for dollars. He’s been called out – often more than once or all night long – every time he’s been on-call. While we can debate the reasons why, no one will argue the fact that mental health issues are on the rise in our local communities and on our college campuses today. If we want to be prepared to serve our current students, we need far more knowledge and skills than what I picked up at the dinner table growing up.

On many campuses the demand for counseling services far exceeds the professional help available. Colleges and universities across the nation are looking for creative ways to provide students with more access to care while also working within the limits of their budgets and personnel. Faculty and staff without formal counseling degrees or licenses can no longer rely on those who do to solely meet the demands of students in distress. If we want to care for students in this present moment, we must see ourselves as “allied professional counselors” and get the training we need to be effective helpers.

Whether you work in college ministry, student affairs, or as a faculty member, here are some practical suggestions for preparing to serve students and their mental health needs:

Caring for students and their mental health is a shared objective. No matter our role, we’re not in this alone, nor should we try to be. Caring for students’ mental health creates a beautiful opportunity to “soften silos” across campus, departments, or college ministry tribes as we collaborate towards a shared end. It’s incredibly important to know when and where to make referrals to professionals. At the same time, when we refer a student, it doesn’t mean we drop them or stop caring. As a college ministers, my staff team and I would often make referrals; however, we continued to meet with and disciple students while they also met regularly with a trained therapist. In some cases, students chose to give us access to the information discussed in counseling sessions so we could all work together in helping the student become as healthy as possible. Because students often have touchpoints with caring individuals across different functional areas on campus, many colleges have “care teams” who come together to discuss and create a shared plan for helping the student. We are not alone. As we build trusted relationships across campus and the community, the better prepared we will be serve our students.

Though we’re not alone, college ministers and student development professionals are often first responders to mental health issues and crisis. As students build relationships with us and share their dilemmas, it’s likely that we may be the first to know about a serious issue (even before a roommate, parent, or professor). As we minister on the front lines, it’s crucial that we’re equipped with mental health first aid training. If you don’t already have this training, check into the next offering on your campus or in your community (or go here).

We need to know how to recognize and respond to potential warning signs of mental health issues, and to know when, how, and where to refer. We should

  • Know when to call the police or 911
  • Have an updated list of licensed on-campus and/or community counselors
  • Understand confidentiality (what it is and what it not, given our roles)
  • Know that all student affairs professionals are mandated reporters
  • Know who our Title IX officers are on campus

Let’s commit to equipping ourselves so we can better resources our students.

On one hand there are more students seeking services than ever before, but on the other hand there are far too many students suffering in silence. Students need to know they’re not alone. As someone dedicated to preparing students for life after college, it’s my deep hope that struggling students seek help before they graduate. Issues that present themselves in college may become more complex during the transitional time of leaving college. And, after graduation, students might find themselves with far less support.

We can help normalize mental health issues for our students by dealing with our biases as well as sharing the stories of those who have battled issues and found help. For example, each year (at multiple points) we would bring a panel of recent alumni before our current students. One year, a recent graduate shared some of her mental health struggles post-college and how a professional counselor helped her tremendously. This opened the door for another student in the room to come forward with her issues; she asked for a referral that night, and started getting the help she needed.

Every student should have access to the help they need. The more we collaborate and equip ourselves the better opportunity we have to serve students and their mental health issues. Few issues are matters of life and death. This could be one of them. So, let’s continue to “wake up” to the moment around us (literally, as in the case of my dad), and get what we need to love and serve our students.

What have you done to prepare yourself to serve students and their mental health issues?

What questions does this topic raise for you in your context?

This article is influenced by those who have shaped my understanding of mental health issues and counseling college students: Roger Young, Eric Wessel, Katie Tenny, Bec Shepski, Amy Solmon, Caleb P. Thompson, and the students I have journeyed with over the years. I also referred to Helping College Students by Amy Reynolds and this article, Distress Signals, in Messiah College’s Bridge Magazine (Winter 2018 Edition).  h

5 Questions to Ask Recent Alumni

As you reach out to recent graduates, here are some questions you can ask. I’m curious, what questions would you add to these?

Check out the article (from the archives) and stop back over to the blog here to comment! I’d love to hear from you. Most importantly, I’d love to know what you’re learning as you take a moment — perhaps right now — to reach out to a recent graduate. Today is a great day to check-in and encourage someone on his/her post-college journey! 🙂

Do These First: 3 Things Every Recent Should Prioritize After College

photo credit: InterVarsity

Life after college often feels overwhelming for recent graduates. It’s hard to know where to start. A few years ago, I reached out to a number of alums and asked them to share their advice on what to do first.

Here’s an article (from the archives) on 3 things every recent gradate should prioritize. It’s written for recent graduates, so feel free to pass it to your alums! 

More than the ideas in the article, I hope this post is an encouragement to send a text, make a call, or say a prayer for your recent graduates.

We need each other to stay faithful, and our former students need heaps of encouragement in this transition.

Will you take a quick action today to reach out to one or more of your alums? Let me know!

PS I’m curious what you would add to this article. What do you encourage your recent graduates to do first? Leave a comment on the blog here (below) – I’d love to hear from you!