For many believers in Christ, the commandment in Matthew 5:48 to “Be ye therefore perfect” can have a weighty influence on mental health, says Aliah Hall, the mental health and wellness specialist at the BYU Marriott School of Business. But referencing the original Greek, Hall explains that the word “perfect” has another layer of meaning: to be complete or “whole.” With this understanding, she encourages others to move toward a sense of wholeness and belonging, which means making space for mental health.
“The business world, as well as a business school, can be a really rigorous and difficult place,” says Hall. “Yes, it's important to succeed in the world, but succeeding in the world isn't the end all be all. We also have to take care of our spiritual self, and we have to take care of our physical self, and our mental self, and our social self. And all those things have to work in tandem for us to be well rounded and good stewards here on Earth.”
Hall tells students that to be able to take care of yourself, you have to know yourself. “And that means you have to kind of look at yourself and focus on yourself,” explains Hall.
Hall understands that importance of knowing yourself firsthand. As a black member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints growing up in California, she focused on her faith rather than the reality that she didn’t look like many members of her church community. With the help of loving parents, she learned to focus her life on living the gospel.
Following a church mission in Panama, Hall left her home in California with nothing but a plane ticket for New York, a few hundred dollars, and a plan to attend New York University. Then shortly after arriving in New York, she felt strongly impressed that she needed to go to Brigham Young University.
But even in following inspiration to come to BYU, she didn’t always feel like she belonged. “I had lived in a couple other countries in different places, but I had never come to Utah. It was very different for me.” Hall says. She recalls a time when her roommate from Utah told her she wasn't allowed to play with face cards, which her bishop in California taught her how to play.
In spite of some of the cultural differences, Hall loved her academic experience at BYU studying psychology. She describes herself as someone who always knew what she wanted to do, even when she didn’t have a name for it. “Since I was little, I just wanted to talk to people, get their stories, and help them,” shares Hall.
Following graduation from BYU with her bachelor’s degree, Hall earned a master’s degree at the University of Utah and worked as a mental health therapist in a variety of professional settings, including a school district, a hospital, and even her own private practice.
While running her practice, Hall felt a distinct impression that she was supposed to work at BYU. Thinking that BYU didn’t hire social workers, Hall put away the thought. But not before she mentioned it to her husband. “There’s a job for a social worker at BYU Marriott,” Hall recalls her husband saying. “I was like, that’s weird,” she laughs. “So I applied, and now I’m here.”
Hall explains that her role at BYU Marriott is to help students create that well rounded life. Referencing social worker Brené Brown, Hall explains that belonging doesn’t come from trying to fit in. “If I have to be like you, I fit in. But if I get to be myself, I belong,” says Hall. “And that's really important.”
She adds, “At BYU, there can be a sense to fit in—to be like everybody else, and do what everybody else is doing, and have the experience that everybody else is having. But as we as a faith community shift from fitting in to belonging—to true belonging—then we get to be ourselves, and we get to bring our whole selves to events.”
That’s especially significant for all who come to BYU Marriott. “The best part of coming to a faith-based institution,” says Hall, “is I get to bring all of myself to class. I can bring my testimony, my faith, and my experiences with the gospel. And when I get to be myself and show up fully as myself, then I can belong.”
Written by Stephanie Bentley