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Dear Sam Releases “Andover 101” and “Feeling Blue” to Give Accessible Mental Health Education

Dear Sam, a student-run initiative founded to provide Andover students with accessible resources and information about wellness, published its magazine “Feeling Blue” this past week. By having students on the staff of the organization answer anonymous questions submitted by their classmates, Dear Sam members hope to offer peer-to-peer education regarding mental, physical and emotional wellness on campus.

The organization was created last year in midst of conversations surrounding physical and mental health on campus.

“Last year, there was a lot of discussion centered around topics such as physical health, eating disorders, mental health, depression – that kind of stuff. It really hit us seeing how our peers were being affected by these types of issues, so we really wanted to think of a solution that could unite students to fight these issues together,” said Andrew Cortner ’17, Co-Editor in Chief of Dear Sam.

To get advice before starting the initiative, Cortner and Niko Skrivanos ’17, Co-Editor in Chief, spoke with Patricia Russell, Dean of Studies; Paul Murphy ’83, former Dean of Students; Carol Israel, Director of Counseling and Co-Director of Wellness Education, and Amy Patel, Medical Director and Co-Director of Wellness Education. Israel and Patel both serve as Dear Sam’s Faculty Advisors.

“We had to be very persistent and willing to overcome lots of different obstacles that kept coming our way… We had a lot of meetings with [Israel] and [Patel], working through these types of issues, but now, a year in, we finally have finished our website and published our first book and magazine, got an Abbot Grant and done lots of things that I don’t think we would have thought we could have done at the time,” said Skrivanos.

At dearsam.org, students may access an online library of questions already answered by the Dear Sam team, or submit their own to be answered by the staff, a team of fellow students. The content on the website, as well as the book and magazine, are carefully reviewed by Israel and Patel.

The initiative encompasses many of the goals of the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center, most importantly that of promoting health and wellness in the Andover community.

“I initially thought that their plans were too grand, that their ideas were way too big for what they wanted to do… Those feelings have changed tremendously, as they have proven, time and time again, that they have the energy and the motivation to really do this,” said Israel.

Patel said, “No one knows a student like another student… and they continuously impressed me with their execution of this initiative, so I’ve been excited about this since the very beginning. [Israel] and I gave them a couple avenues to explore to refine their idea, and they have taken those and run with them.”
Dear Sam covers six main topics of conversation: physical health, mental health, academic issues, relationship issues, sexual health and diversity. While the organization is not replacing resources offered by the Wellness Center, it aims to provide information for students who might be afraid of being stigmatized for seeking help.

“For Dear Sam, we wanted students to have resources accessible to them, and to be able to get an answer to a question that they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. Because it’s an online platform, we want students to be able to reach out anonymously, so they’re not stigmatized for having to go to the Wellness Center. They can keep to themselves, but still get the help they need,” said Skrivanos.

Meg Davis ’17, a Physical Health Editor, said, “I think it makes it easier for people to get access to information about certain things. It’s less pressure than having to go to talk to a counselor about something, because it’s anonymous. They can also answer questions that other people may have, and not know they have.”

Dear Sam’s by-students-for-students design allows the organization to bring together many student voices and opinions, translating them into useful discussion about issues unique to Andover.

“Everyone has a unique perspective, and Dear Sam is just a collection of student voices. The more people who want to get involved, the more reliable Dear Sam [will be] as a resource, because we [will] have a larger representation of the student body, which I think is a really important aspect of what Dear Sam is,” said Cortner.

Dear Sam will be hosting an official launch party for “Feeling Blue” this Friday in the Wellness Center.

Max Vale ’18, a reader, said, “We know that there are always going to be people who aren’t feeling their best here on campus, and having publications that can reach out to them and tell them how to get help is really great… I think it’s just super important to know that there are always students who are going to be looking out for other students.”

Editor’s Note: Niko Skrivanos is an Associate Layout Editor for The Phillipian.

Jan 15, 2016