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Counselors comin' in clutch

Maia Somma '24

Dec 9, 2022

Today, high school students are increasingly struggling with mental health issues. Although we have seemingly returned to a state of normalcy post-lockdown, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students has continued. According to a 2021 study by the CDC, 44% of students reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for two consecutive weeks or more. This is only one statistic amongst a decade-long trend of declining mental health in adolescents caused by college and athletic pressures, to name but a few factors. In students, the term “mental health issues” most commonly refers to episodes of anxiety and/or depression, followed by eating disorders and substance abuse. 

While there are different causes of eroding mental health for  teenagers, school tends to be a significant factor for many. Living at boarding school may exacerbate the stress generally caused by school, derived from academic pressure or social scenarios. Amid a heavy workload, a dense schedule, and the pressure of expectations, students find it increasingly difficult to take care of themselves. 

Fortunately, being in a boarding school environment also affords a unique advantage: the school can be involved in providing important resources and support to students. The same CDC study said, students who feel supported and cared for at their schools are 20% less likely to repeatedly feel sad and hopeless. Thus, a school can make a positive impact in their students’ lives by successfully addressing mental health. 

Currently, Mercersburg offers several mental health resources for students in the community and the adults who work with them. The Rutherford Health and Wellness Center has three full time, licensed counselors to provide support: Jen Sipes, Schaffer Post ‘02, and Bethany Galey ‘02. The team sometimes brings in outside professionals or refers students to others if needed. These services are all free of charge, with no time limit. “We also offer Wellness Wednesday lunch periods, whether to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the dining hall or address concerns students may be facing,” said Galey. 

Given the increased need for mental health services, the Counseling Department has recently implemented new initiatives. “Some of what the X-Block curriculum consists of comes from the Counseling Department, including stress management and healthy relationships,” Amy Schaffer Post explained. Additionally, during finals week in the fall, the counselors provided virtual brain breaks for students to take a pause from studying. To increase outreach, the Counseling Center also plans on “hanging up posters with 2 QR codes, one allowing students to connect to us directly and another allowing students to anonymously express concern about another,” Post added.

When visiting the Counseling Center, Mercersburg students can expect a certain degree of confidentiality. “Any student ages 14 and over has the right to confidentiality, meaning the services and the appointments are kept within the safe space of the office. If a student comes in speaking of safety concerns, whether toward themselves or someone else, we do have an obligation by law to breach the confidentiality,” said Schaffer Post. 

Considering the possible ways in which the Mercersburg community could improve on student mental health support, the Counseling Department offered many suggestions. “Check in with your friends, that’s where it starts,” Galey said. “Don’t be afraid if you’re concerned for a friend to reach out to a trained adult,” Sipes continued. They also emphasized the importance of exercise, movement, and getting outside. “Prioritize your well-being, because if you aren’t well physically, emotionally, or spiritually, you won’t be able to perform to the best of your ability.” 

This article is the first in a series committed to the discussion of mental health at Mercersburg.

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