The Class of 2021 received suicide prevention training and mental health awareness during meetings on January 25, and each of the six halls of the Ninth Grade Village received training from six of the student Peer Counselors and six adults on campus.
Science Teaching Fellow Hannah Insuik originally designed the training program, called Notice and Connect, while she was a student at Colby College and in conjunction with the school’s counseling office. With the help of Director of Counseling Joshua Relin, they tweaked the program for Deerfield. They added aspects of the Signs of Suicide program, which Dr. Relin explained to be a program used for students all across the country.
Ms. Insuik designed the Notice and Connect program “to be co-facilitated by a mental health professional or other experienced adult and a student,” and she felt that incorporating the Peer Counselors ensured the program was “fully entrenched in Deerfield and what students have experienced.” She appreciated that the Peer Counselor for her ninth-grade group “added personal anecdotes when necessary to stress the idea that mental health issues are prevalent here on campus, and there is a lot of opportunity to help as a concerned friend.”
Dr. Relin explained that in the training, they “discussed why suicide is a critical issue in high school, how to ask a friend if they are feeling suicidal, and what to do if you’re concerned about a friend’s safety (reach out to a trusted adult or the Health Center ASAP!).” Ms. Insuik added that students “go through what it looks like to struggle specifically here at Deerfield, how to set the stage for a positive and helpful conversation, and then [they] practice starting those conversations using a few scenarios that we provide.”
Peer Counselor Nora Markey ’18 explained, “We want students to be equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to support someone struggling with mental health and or feelings of wanting to end their life, or be supported in the case that a student finds themselves in that situation.”
Peer Counselor Will McNamara ’18 reported that the training has been an “incredibly valuable experience for him.” He believes that “having the ability to connect with and identify people who are feeling excluded is a really important sign of a supportive community. … Listening can go an enormous way in making someone feel less alone.”
Many ninth-graders found the suicide prevention training beneficial. Chijioke Achebe ‘21 found it “very helpful,” adding that it “made sense that it was done by hall, as you spend more time with the people on your hall than anyone else.”
Ms. Insuik said, “This programming is important, and way overdue in a lot of ways. … Being at Deerfield isn’t always easy, but I want to try to make it a little bit easier by relieving the huge amounts of stigma that surround mental health on campus.”
The long-term plan is to train all grades and the faculty in suicide prevention. Ms. Insuik said, “If logistics played no part, we would train every member of our community right away!”
Beyond suicide prevention training, the counselors and Health Center are trying to bring awareness to other mental health issues on campus. Health Teacher and Peer Counseling Director Kristin Loftus believes that “the most significant mental health issue on campus is anxiety and depression that students attempt to mask.”
Dr. Relin believes that the most significant mental health issue on campus right now is stress, and noted, “There’s an important line between finding the motivation you need to push yourself to achieve, and crossing over into something that feels like it’s too much and makes life seem unbearable.”
The counselors emphasized that there are many ways to help a friend struggling with any mental health issue. Dr. Relin said, “If a student has a friend who is struggling, I’d encourage them to take the time to talk directly to that friend and tell them what they see and are concerned about.” He said that the Deerfield counselors “always strive to intervene in a way that feels comfortable to both the friend and the student of concern. And if talking to a counselor feels too intense, any faculty member on campus who you feel comfortable with is equipped to provide support.”
Ms. Loftus commented, “If friends are struggling, the only thing not to do is nothing. Tell them of your concern, tell them what you have noticed without pointing blame or judging, be a good listener and suggest seeing a counselor … or go to the counselor with them. Do not feel like you have to solve their problems for them.”