With the goal of creating an educational epicenter on its campus for the combining of faith and worldwide advancement in mental health care, Liberty University has announced the launch of the Global Center for Mental Health, Addiction, and Recovery.
The center will be the first of its kind for the university, drawing together academic departments and multiple campus resources to work through strategic partnerships and alliances that advance research and provide education, training, advocacy and services to help deal with the massive mental health and addiction crisis in the church and global community.
“The vision and mission statement of this global center is to collaboratively interlink all the schools and bring this wealth of information together, because mental health touches everywhere,” said Dr. Tim Clinton, who will serve as the executive director. “Why wouldn’t an institution like Liberty step back and look at all these issues and challenges? With our already state-of-the-art resources across our disciplines, we can make a collective effort to demonstrate and defend why we’re committed to our Christian beliefs when it comes to mental health.”
Clinton is the president of the American Association of Christian Counselors and serves as co-host of “Family Talk” with Dr. James Dobson. He is an educator, author and speaker who has impacted millions around the globe with a “distinctively Christian and clinically excellent message of hope and help for living everyday life.”
For more than 30 years, he has served in academic administration and as a professor of counseling and pastoral care at Liberty. During his tenure and guidance alongside colleague and mentor Dr. Ron Hawkins, Clinton developed the largest Christian counselor training program in the world at Liberty. Clinton helped develop and launch the Liberty University James C. Dobson Center for Child Development, Marriage and Family Studies.
He said the new global center focused on mental health is launching at a particularly relevant time.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was already in the midst of a massive mental health crisis,” he said. “Issues like depression, stress and anxiety, abuse, personality and obsessive-compulsive disorders, addiction and others had caused a surge of hopelessness in our culture, and now the current pandemic and its related societal and relational issues have only taken it a step further.”
“The American people are exhausted, running on empty, and emotionally shot,” Clinton added. “The brokenness is profound. Not bringing help and hope to them in these issues — that’s the mistake. Crisis is the moment when we (the Church) should be there.”
Data from the Census Bureau shows that 33 percent of Americans are exhibiting signs of clinical depression or anxiety, and a Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that 45 percent of American adults reported a negative impact on their mental health due to stress and worry due to COVID-19.
Worldwide, 450 million are living with a mental illness, and nearly one in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, nearly 60 percent of adults living with mental health conditions in the U.S. went without treatment in the previous year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the national suicide rate has increased 33 percent from 1999 to 2019.
Partnering with Liberty for the center is a highly qualified board of advisors who will lend their expertise to strengthen and aid this critical new initiative. The board will include:
• Tim Clinton, Ed.D, LPC, LMFT, executive director
• Ron Hawkins, Ed.D., D.Min. LPC, associate director
• Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
• Darryl and Tracy Strawberry, Th.D., Strawberry Ministries
• Cathy Hendrick Weeks, motivational speaker and philanthropist
• Matt Stanford, PhD; CEO of Hope and Healing Center & Institute
• Harold Koenig, MD, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University
• Everett Worthington Jr., Ph.D., professor emeritus, Virginia Commonwealth University
• Lon Lynn, D.O., medical director of Clinical Research of West Florida Inc.
• Jack Graham, D.Min., PowerPoint Ministries and Prestonwood Baptist Church
• Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel Church
• Greg Jantz, Ph.D., founder of The Center: A Place of Hope
• Janet Parshall, In the Market with Janet Parshall
• Craig Parshall, J.D., special counsel for the Law and Justice
• Herb & Dona Fisher, James Dobson Family Institute Board of Directors
Dr. Ron Hawkins, a longtime counseling professional and administrator at Liberty who established the School of Behavioral Sciences, is helping to launch the center.
“We have a global crisis in mental health, and the pandemic has put that crisis on steroids,” he said. “Relationships that were already fragile have now imploded.”
According to Gallup, more than a third of U.S. adults (37 percent) say they feel less connected to family and friends.
Hawkins said there is significance in a mental health initiative with such a large scope being birthed in an academic institution to solve real-world problems. Liberty is taking on the challenge, he said, looking at many different facets, from “the science of addiction, the science of mental health, and the whole legal issue of policies that are being changed and addressed as we speak.”
“We’ve never had something that is this comprehensive to address such an important issue, and out of it we look for a path forward,” he added. “We are looking for a way to intelligently, responsibly and, speaking from a faith position and biblical worldview, address solutions.”
Providing mental health care from a Christian perspective can also open the door to the Gospel, Clinton pointed out, as sometimes coming alongside those in the midst of trials can allow them to be more receptive to the Good News.
“People are most open to direction and the reach of God during times of crisis, so that’s when we should step in — when everyone else is stepping away,” he said. “Pain blinds the eye and creates confusion, and that is how evil triumphs.”
For many people struggling with mental health and addiction, it comes down to helping them create healthy relationships.
“In some ways, healthy relationships can have the same effect as good medicine — if you have good relationships, it can be transformative,” he said. “Think of it spiritually: a God who loves you can be transformative, and we can bring that kind of hope into the world.”
To Clinton, mental health is an overarching issue, and providers of this care are in high demand.
“Tell me where doesn’t mental health touch?” he asked. “The family, the workplace, what we look at all around the globe. With that, you realize that there really is a huge need for providers. One of the big pieces that we do here at Liberty is train mental health leaders to step into this moment and help lead the way with a voice of reason, clinical excellence, and a faith that transcends hopelessness.”
Hawkins and Clinton said the center will fully align with the university’s mission and that faculty, staff, and students from across the residential and online programs will also be served through its work.
“It’s exciting to realize that this isn’t just going out into the world; it’s actually percolating here and filtering down to faculty and students and the way we approach mental health problems,” Hawkins said.
Studies are showing increased levels of anxiety and depression in college students, and Clinton and Hawkins want to strengthen the university’s internal response.
“If we’re really talking about Training Champions for Christ and impacting culture, these are the issues that we need to be speaking into,” Clinton added. “Today’s students grew up in a complex world and a lot of the pain they bring to school is different.”
The new center is a step in addressing an ever-growing crisis.
“We really believe that mental health will be the greatest challenge facing the church and global community on the road forward,” Clinton said. “The church cannot ignore or be half-hearted toward addressing these issues. This will be a real statement by a Christian educational institution on mental health and a real statement to the church about where we think we need to go to minister to people and bring help and hope to them for such a time as this.”