Mental Health at Maggie Walker

Sophia McCrimmon, Features Editor

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Guidance counselors Penny Deck and Karl Zweerink meet with a student.

Srishti Sanya
Guidance counselors Penny Deck and Karl Zweerink meet with a student.

Stressed-out students are not hard to find at a high-pressure school like Maggie Walker. Pressure certainly comes with the territory at an advanced high school, but for some students, the stress of school work can provoke or exacerbate more serious mental health problems.

These issues are highly personal and often excluded from mainstream conversations, yet they are fairly common at Maggie Walker and beyond. Research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of major depression during high school, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 25 percent of teens report having suffered anxiety at some point in their lives.

“It’s something that pretty much everyone I know deals with on a regular basis,” said Sarah Law (’17).

“At Maggie Walker in particular, the rigor, workload, and the lack of sleep people get all contribute to the problem,” echoed Emily Martin (’17).

Though certainly not all students experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness while at Maggie Walker, many others do work to overcome these personal struggles- often in silence.

“There’s a whole mindset that it’s bad to ask for help, because for so long we’ve been the ‘smart kid’ we feel like we’re expected to know everything and how to deal with everything,” said Mairead Guy (’17).

At Maggie Walker, help for those who are struggling is certainly available. For students who are feeling temporarily overwhelmed, or experiencing more severe feelings of emotional distress, the most immediate recourse is the counseling staff.

“The biggest thing that we have to offer is that we’re here. We have an open door policy and there are no appointments necessary,” said guidance counselor Karl Zweerink, “We really do want students to feel like the counseling suite is a place they can come if they’re having a bad day or they need some extra support.”

“We’re here for support, but we’re not trained therapists. We’re here to help coordinate for students,” said counselor Penny Deck.

Despite the open door policy of the counseling office, some students are still reluctant to solicit the help of guidance counselors.

“I think most kids don’t feel very comfortable talking to a guidance counselor. Perhaps if there was an outside counselor who was only there for mental help as opposed to academic help that might make kids a lot more comfortable,” said Guy (`17).

Other options for students struggling to cope with stress are available. This year, the guidance office hosted a support group called S.O.S. (Stressed Out Seniors), which included a licensed professional counselor. Another new program is Dragon Advisors, in which small groups of freshmen meet regularly to discuss the challenges of high school. As a part of this program, the counseling office distributed a pamphlet on stress during exams, which included tips on ways to de-stress as well as a list of common symptoms of test anxiety. In the new semester, the guidance office is offering small group counseling opportunities on the issues of stress management, substance abuse, and identity.

“There are a lot of things I would love for us to be able to do, but I don’t know how realistic they are at Maggie Walker. I would love it if we had more time, so that students could come to do a support group without feeling like they were missing class or missing an opportunity to get work done,” said Zweerink.

“It’s challenging at Maggie Walker, because students are already kind of stressed and overstretched,” agreed Deck.

A previous program called Peer Helpers, in which trained students helped their struggling peers, is evidence of this issue. Over time, attendance dwindled as students became preoccupied with other concerns.

Others see problems with the way teachers accommodate students who are having difficulties with mental illness or stress.

“If a kid is struggling, teachers can be quick to blame the student and their work ethic instead of understanding that it’s not their fault and it’s not a character flaw,” said Serina Guy (’16).

Though opinions vary on the highly personal issue of mental health, there is no disagreement that an effective support system is highly necessary.

“This is a bigger problem than anyone wants to say,” Martin said, “and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to support students.”

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