Taimur Rehman ’25
The headlines are filled with stories about the toll that the pandemic is taking on the mental health of adolescents across the nation. In response to the need on campus, Mercersburg’s counseling department has started to hold monthly, “Let’s Talk” sessions, giving students the opportunity to share their feelings and connect with their peers. The first occurred last week; however, a mixture of schedule complications and reluctance to discuss mental health in a group environment have resulted in poor attendance thus far.
Mary Cate Hauenstein, one of Mercersburg’s counselors, says “Unfortunately, no students showed up. But the idea is to hold a time and a space for students to show up and discuss whatever is on their minds. We would have some icebreakers and set some norms in the first few minutes and maybe have a topic or two in mind to start the conversation. I think the hardest part is getting the conversation going, keeping it going is much easier.”
Jen Sipes P’22, another staff member in the counseling department, picks up where Hauenstein left off in last week’s issue about the impacts of seasonal depression; perhaps the low winter morale is the culprit for the poor attendance. However, the colder weather is no excuse for forestalling this conversation. “Finding connection, no matter what time of year, is important for all people, regardless of age,” she says.
The lack of attendance is not due to low demand for counseling services—as the counselors have seen a steady influx of students in the counseling center—but rather the stigmatized idea of seeking help and group therapy as a whole. Hauenstein said, “I think the mentality to push through and ignore signs of stress and deteriorating mental health is sort of contagious. Being stressed and busy becomes a type of competition.” It only takes a few students to turn the tables and make a significant difference in how mental support is addressed, though. “I believe that it will just take a couple of groups of courageous students to say, hey, I’m tired of living this way and want to do something different in order to feel better. When we see others prioritizing their health and wellbeing, it gives us permission to do the same.”
Amy Shaffer Post ‘02, the third musketeer of Mercersburg’s counselors, recognizes another roadblock preventing the “Let’s Talk” sessions from gaining momentum: time. The most recent session was scheduled to take place immediately after dinner—a busy layover between PGAs and evening responsibilities. “The biggest issue has been engagement for students. Students’ schedules seem to be so busy that it’s hard to take time out to participate in something that isn’t a requirement,” Post said.
The counseling department has also tried to start support groups for anxiety, depression, and stress but again met with a student body unsure of commitment. “Jen and Amy have offered a group for stress and anxiety, and I have offered a group for depression. However, we have not been able to start these groups because we have not had enough students commit,” says Hauenstein.
Post, however, sees a more optimistic future for the “Let’s Talk” sessions and mental health offerings more broadly. “We have held that space and opportunity twice so far, and we will have two more sessions (April 6th and May 4th). We hear the student body saying that they need opportunities to connect about important topics related to mental health and stress management. We are trying to create these opportunities and will continue to do so.”