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Peer-to-Peer: Students Form Mental Health Club for Uncertain Times

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its tenth month and Americans everywhere struggle to adjust, two Holderness students have created a support group for students concerned about mental health on campus.
This fall, Emma Filosa ’21 and Ava Wilson ’21 joined together to form the student-led support group, which meets weekly to give students a chance to talk about life and the complexities of being a high schooler in the era of COVID-19. Those complexities have become especially evident this year, with the pandemic heightening awareness of student anxiety and mental health concerns. “I think it’s always been an issue, but it’s been brought to our attention more so because of the pandemic,” Emma says. 

Pandemic-related change and uncertainty seem to be major drivers of student stress and anxiety this year. When COVID-19 first spread across the country last March, students were sent home to spend the final two months of the school year learning in virtual classrooms. When they finally returned to campus in September, school life had changed significantly. And while Holderness students recognize the privilege of learning in-person when so many of their peers are at home, readjusting to life at school has presented its own unique challenges. “It has kind of been hard for me just to come back here and be with all these people because I’m so used to being by myself, or with three other family members,” Ava says. “So we thought it was important to form a group where we could just have a safe space to talk to friends.”

That safe space takes shape every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Chapel. While the weekly meetings aren’t therapy sessions, they do provide a venue for students to talk and learn coping skills. The gatherings are guided by former Holderness psychology teacher and lacrosse coach Chrissy Lushefski, who is currently working toward an MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness at New York University. She’s joined by Rachel Gulick of Growing Roots, LLC, an organization that provides mental health services to adults, adolescents, and families throughout central New Hampshire. These early meetings have shown promise, with students meeting to vent, do yoga together, and set goals for themselves. 

According to School Counselor Carol Dopp, the weekly meetings are a valuable resource for students who are struggling with increased anxiety this year.  “It’s this cloud of COVID that’s over the top of us,” Carol says. “There’s more anxiety. Kids are naming it this year. It’s not ‘stress’ from what I’ve heard. The words have changed from ‘stress’ to ‘anxiety’ which I put up in a little higher category than stress.” Indeed, rising levels of pandemic-related anxiety aren’t unique to Holderness – or teenagers, for that matter. According to a recent health tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Family Foundation, 53 percent of adults have reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. Back in March, just 32 percent of adults reported similar concerns.

Ultimately, Emma says, she hopes the club will raise awareness about the importance of mental health throughout the course of the pandemic - and hopefully long after it’s over. “I really want to use this club to sort of raise awareness around mental health and getting help so kids know that it’s ok to ask for help,” Emma says. “I hope it stays around here for a while.” 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, there are ways to get help. Our school counselor, Carol Dopp has some recommendations to help combat anxiety and depression during these anxious days.

Need a virtual support group? Check out TheMighty.com.
Try positive self-talk.
Do Nothing for 10 Minutes.
Check out The Anxiety Chart to understand what anxiety can look and feel like.
Check out Lynn Lyons’ LICSW How to Prevent Depression.
A TED Talk about Seeing Things Positively or Negatively.
Meditate with this free app.
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