Students seek help to discuss their mental health

Bradley Bennett and Natalie Sweet

In a school where academic, extracurricular, and social pressures can mount quickly, some students turn to therapists for help.

Students have the option to speak to a counselor in the school’s Office of Counseling and Guidance before reaching out to an out-of-school therapist.

“Though we are all trained psychologists, our office is tasked explicitly with providing counseling and guidance – not ongoing therapy – to students at the school,” Counseling and Guidance Office Psychologist Dr. Ian Pervil said. “We are ready to help those who are dealing with problems small and large. That can encompass a range of challenges including difficulties with friends or family, the ways we think and learn, stress or anxiety, depression, and many other mental health concerns,” he said. 

“At school, we will work hard to make sure students get connected with the help that they need, and sometimes that can mean reaching out to parents, therapists, or other professionals,” Pervil said. “By contrast, students can work with therapists in an ongoing way outside of school in a space that is removed from the environment at Horace Mann.

For many students, there is still a stigma around the idea of seeking help.

Sandy* worries that students would judge her for using a therapist, “especially if that would be some people’s first impression of me.”

Carl* also requested anonymity because of his concerns that people make assumptions when they hear that someone is in therapy. “I don’t want my friends to pity me or want to talk about it, since I’m fine now,” he said.

Especially for men, there is this societal expectation that men are supposed to hide their problems inside their heads instead of speaking out, Carl said.

“For me, I try to act really energetic and happy to hide my problems,” he said. “The toxic culture that tells men that they always need to feel strong definitely affects how and why men hide their feelings,” he said.

Carl often finds that he is not given the time at home to manage these stressors. 

“Going to see a therapist helps you to cope with the problems you have and really allows you to relax,” Carl said.

Bethany* uses a therapist because of family issues combined with an eating disorder similar to bulimia and anorexia, she said.

Liza* started seeing a therapist after being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, conditions that worsened in high school, she said. “During my sessions with my therapist, we talk about ways to stress and ways to feel better about myself,” she said.

For Patricia*, talking to her therapist helps her recognize her feelings and deal with them in a safe and healthy way, she said. Patricia first started seeing a therapist because she worried talking candidly to her mother was making her mother feel she was not a good parent, and she wanted someone else to talk about her problems with outside her family, she said.

One common theme among students who use therapists is the overwhelming sense of competition and pressure at school. According to Wellness Initiative co-President Alexandra Crotty (12), this is ingrained into the culture of the school.

“Students who have any form of mental illness will probably struggle in high school,” Crotty said. “Even some people who are perfectly mentally healthy face the same stress.”

For Crotty, therapy became a weekly routine after she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in ninth grade, she said.

Many students especially appreciate the outsider perspective that a therapist brings to the table.

“A therapist is not a part of your family, not a friend, so they don’t really know the faces or any of the context, but they also just have a really good objective input,” Trixie said.

Sandy shares a similar perspective. “It’s important that there’s someone who’s not afraid to call you out, for example, if you’re doing something self-destructive,” she said.

Another aspect of outside of school therapy appealing to students is the increased sense of privacy they have as compared to using the school’s Office of Guidance and Counseling.

“The basis of any counseling relationship is trust and a sense of privacy,” Upper Dxqivision Director of Counseling and Guidance Dr. Daniel Rothstein said. “However, we always want to be upfront about the limits of confidentiality.  When we are concerned about a student’s safety, we may have to contact a parent in order to make sure a student gets the outside help that they need.”

“Even in that instance, however, we are very careful about personal details – we talk it through with the student, and tell them exactly what we will say, and give them as much control as possible about what we need to share,” Pervil said.

Carl appreciates that the school’s guidance office can help him with his problems in school, he said.

“We help facilitate conversations between students and teachers when they find themselves in difficult situations,” Pervil said.

School counselors can also assist students with finding the right therapists outside of school, Pervil said.

“At school, we will work hard to make sure students get connected with the help that they need, and sometimes that can mean reaching out to parents, therapists, or other professionals,” Pervil said.

“When you hear other people talk about seeing therapists, it makes you feel better about seeking help because you know you have a common option,” Bethany said. “This normalization is very important for many students who want to see a therapist, but are worried about being judged for it,” she said.

“In most cases, I wouldn’t want to start with the presumption that someone ‘needs’ a therapist, except in cases where there is danger of harm to self or others,” Pervil said. “Instead, I’d rather have a student just come in for a conversation, and then we can think together about what they might want and need, and we can talk honestly and openly about the ways to get that. Sometimes that may mean working with a therapist.”

“No matter how much your mental health affects you, it is still very important, and to have someone to listen and understand what you’re going through is always helpful,” Patricia said.

*Names have been changed at the request of students.