The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Staying Afloat: Seeking mental health resources on and off campus

Photo Illustration by Sofia Heller

Hunter* ’18 felt his anxiety increasing. When Monday night arrived, he was on the brink of a breakdown. However, as soon as he sat down in his Peer Support group and began to share, his fears instantly decreased.

“I detached from everything, my schoolwork, friends, family,” Hunter said. “I was drawn into the stress, and I was so anxious. I couldn’t see anything outside of that.”

Hunter struggles with anxiety and said that the community within Peer Support has helped alleviate it.

“Going to Peer Support and explaining my fears that were overwhelming me allowed me to see the reality of the situation, which was incredibly useful,” Hunter said. “Peer Support has given me the support I need to get through my anxiety. They were the people I didn’t disconnect from.”

Many students like Hunter use Peer Support as an outlet to cope with their mental health issues. According to a Chronicle poll, 46 percent of 247students said Peer Support is the most helpful resource on campus for dealing with their mental health related problems.

Lila* ’19 struggles with anxiety, depression, insomnia and bulimia. When Lila recently confronted a difficult issue that resurfaced in her life, she said she relied on Peer Support for solace in an extreme moment of pain.

“I was crying every single day during school,” Lila said. “I was down, I had multiple breakdowns and anxiety attacks, I couldn’t sleep at night and I wasn’t able to concentrate in school. My whole life hit the fan that week. It became too much for me to deal with, and I felt like I was drowning in my own problem because I have been carrying it for the past few years. I wanted people to help me, support me and tell me everything was fine.”

Lila said Peer Support has allowed her to find another group within the community who she can trust at her lowest points.

Last year, she said she confided in her leaders when she was having suicidal thoughts. They encouraged her to seek help from adults, which she had trouble doing previously.

“When you’re on the verge of suicide and you want to die, asking for help and having people constantly support you is life changing,” Lila said.

According to a University of Cambridge study, teenagers who struggle with mental health issues and receive help from mental health services are less likely to be depressed later in their adolescence than those who do not get help.

Peer Support Trainee Lauren Morganbesser ’19 also said Peer Support has helped her overcome personal issues and that she feels comfortable sharing her feelings.

“There is something unique in Peer Support because it’s a group of your friends and your peers who are going through similar things, so there’s a sense of empathy,” Morganbesser said. “They can understand what you’re going through in a different way than a dean or psychologist would.”

However, some students said that the social aspect of Peer Support makes them uncomfortable sharing and it hasn’t been a helpful outlet for them.

Anita Anand ’19 said that as an introvert, she felt anxious to share issues about her family with her Peer Support group.

“You have to be able to talk to a big group of strangers about really personal things, and I was definitely not comfortable doing that,” Anand said. “I am an introvert, and I couldn’t be [that open or talkative] at all.”

Ethan* ’19, who also considers himself an introvert, said he noticed that his more extroverted peers dominated the sessions, making it more difficult for him to gather the courage to speak.

“It was nice to have [extroverted] people in the group, but it definitely created this environment where the pressure to say stuff was contrasted with the fact that I never really had time to speak,” Ethan said. “I often felt almost compressed by the people who were more outgoing.”

Upper school psychologists and Peer Support advisors Sophie Wasson and Luba Bek can serve as another resource for students who don’t feel comfortable expressing personal issues in a group setting.

Penelope* ’19, who saw the middle school psychologist, said that although she hasn’t talked to either of the upper school psychologists, she would feel open to doing so.

“It’s so convenient to have a school psychologist on campus, so you don’t need to go outside of school or ask your parents to see someone for help,” Penelope said. “You don’t need to worry about the severity of your issue and I know [the school psychologist is] confidential and only there to help me.

However, some students said the policies surrounding seeing school psychologists have been harmful.

Lila said that after sharing an issue that qualified as a “red flag,” she was required to attend weekly meetings with Wasson. In Peer Support, a red flag is defined as a situation when a student is hurting themselves, a student is hurting someone else or someone else is hurting a student. Peer Support trainees and leaders are required to report these instances to the school psychologist.

Although Lila noted that her meetings with the school psychologist acted as another supplement to her support system, she said that the overall policy has caused emotional distress at home.

“Once the school finds out, it turns into a whole big thing where they contact your parents,” Lila said. “Everything else was just out of my reach at that point, and I couldn’t control my own situation. You’re a threat to yourself, so your parents have to find out about it, which strained my relationship with my parents.”

Lila said she wished that the school had allowed her to have more control over the situation.

“Having to talk to the school psychologist, or being forced to, made me feel kind of trapped,” Lila said. “I think students should have the option to see the psychologist, which they do, but I feel like if an issue like mine comes up, students shouldn’t be required.”

Some students who want a more informal resource said the deans can be a good alternative.

For example, Uriah Celaya ’18 said he sought the guidance of dean Celso Cardenas when he came out as transgender to the student body.

“For me, Celso takes the double rule of school psychologist and dean,” Celaya said. “I feel like he really is the person that people feel closest to and most comfortable with and also the person that gives the best advice.”

In contrast, Penelope said she would not feel comfortable discussing mental health issues with her dean due to the difference in gender.

“I don’t know if I would really want to talk about my personal issues with a guy,” Penelope said. “I feel like he would be less understanding. If I had a girl dean and I was close with her, maybe [I would talk to her]. I think I feel more comfortable talking about my personal problems with someone my own gender.”

Wasson said that while school resources can be a sufficient outlet for some students in dealing with their problems, other students may benefit from the individualized aspect of therapy outside of school.

Ethan said the professional and specialized nature of therapy aids him in working through his problems, even more than Peer Support does.

“I know that [therapy] has been very helpful for me,” Ethan said. “Being able to talk to somebody and get whatever’s going on inside of my head out, that’s very helpful for me. Talking one-on-one with somebody feels much more genuine and better than talking to a group of people.”

Upper school dean Celso Cardenas said he wishes there was more professional help on campus available to students, but the school does offer good resources overall.

“I think there’s a lot of spaces for students to feel like they have someone to go to,” Cardenas said. “When it comes to actually having trained professionals, I think we could do a better job. I’ve been at other schools that have less and their resources were tied up, so we’re doing well. That being said, we can always do better.”

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Staying Afloat: Seeking mental health resources on and off campus