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Mental Health at Deerfield
Orlee Marini-Rapoport '19 Associate Editor
April 26, 2017

Over the past few years, the Deerfield administration and students have made new efforts to help students struggling with mental health issues. These efforts include sustaining a Peer Counseling program, hiring three full-time counselors, instituting a mindfulness program, adding a counselor to the Freshman Village once a week, and, most recently, founding the Wellness Club.

Counseling Consultant Dr. Stuart Bicknell explained that “there is a broad range of concerns that students choose or are asked to meet with counselors about,” including “relationship and family conflicts (including family), motivational challenges, unhappiness, anxiety, depression, the urge to and challenges of fitting in, responses to competition and pressure and the impact on self-image and confidence…[students may be] struggling to develop a clear sense of identity, which many would describe as the essential ‘crisis’ of adolescence.”

Cred: Claire Zhang

Dr. Joshua Relin, Director of Counseling, emphasized that he thinks faculty “tend to think about mental health and stress management more quickly than students do,” as students “are inclined to push the boundaries and experience that tipping point.” He said, “The school believes that exposure to stress and being challenged to operate outside your comfort zone leads to growth and achievement and success,” noting that “Deerfield draws students who want to push the boundaries and achieve more than they thought they could achieve, and part of that is you come up against experiences that you’re not so sure you can overcome and then you figure out how to overcome them…that’s the definition of stress, in a sense.”

“Deerfield has been intentional in growing the counseling offices over the years from one part-time counselor to three full-time,” Dr. Bicknell explained. “The combination of the various programs with a psychological, emotional, physical health and social orientation [has a goal of being] both proactive and responsive. We want to respond when there is a problem but also work to encourage students to be thinking about these issues and ask them to participate and make choices that might prevent problems down the road.” As part of these efforts, the school has instituted a mindfulness program, and mindfulness will “be a theme for the whole school next year.”

Maya Rajan ’18 and Julia Bewkes ’18 also founded the Wellness Club this year, and the Tumblr page associated with the club has become a place where Deerfield students can share their experiences and stories about mental health, sometimes doing so anonymously. Rajan explained that “both [she and Bewkes] feel very strongly about mental health, and both of [them] continue to struggle with it at Deerfield.” In starting the Wellness Club, Rajan explained that she “hoped that it could change the school – that people would become more open about their issues and the school would realize it’s not just a small problem. It is clear (through the Tumblr page) that the club and its efforts have resonated with a lot of people…It’s the thing I am most proud of.”

Peer Counselors are one of the many resources for mental health at Deerfield

Nora Markey ’18, who was chosen to be a peer counselor last spring, explained that the Peer Counseling Program, which started in the mid-1970s, is another great resource that Deerfield has for students struggling with mental health: “There [are] lots of resources available for mental health, [but] it’s just a matter of those resources being known… actually, 30% of the school sees the therapist at some point.” Markey “learned so much” from a two-and-a-half month spring training she went through to prepare her for her role as a peer counselor, where they “meet and receive training from counselors, health professionals, [and] inclusion directors.”

Dr. Bicknell feels that “peer counselors are an important presence in the daily life of the school, trained to respond with support and encouragement to the people they live with.”

“De-stigmatization [of mental health issues] happens when we consider that going through periods of emotional turmoil is normal,” noted Dr. Relin. “[There are] a lot of students on campus, many of whom you might not expect are struggling inside.”

Markey hopes that students recognize that “struggling with mental health is totally normal and doesn’t make you crazy” and hopes that “students [are] more aware of the signs of mental illnesses like eating disorders or self harm so that they can get a friend [to seek help] if they see it…a lot of people don’t know how easy it is to see a counselor, peer counselor, or seek the help that they need.”