It is the beginning of the school year, and a new wave of students is preparing for the academic rigor of an Andover education. They may eagerly anticipate Andover’s world of opportunities. Perhaps they are anxious about the academic and social stresses they know they will eventually face. Most likely, it is some combination of both.
We hear all the time about how we, Andover students, labor under a rigid and pressured schedule, that our daily routines start early and end late, that we don’t sleep enough and that, as a community, we are overstressed and overworked. We often talk about wellness and even dedicate an entire week to its promotion, yet students are not well. Sleep deprivation and mental illness rates among students are rising. We can no longer passively discuss these issues; it is time to take action.
The school offers many resources for students dealing with stress and mental illness, including, but not limited to, Graham House counselors, proctors, prefects and the Academic Skills Center. Evidence shows, however, that these resources are either not enough or are not serving the community as they should.
According to the 2014 State of the Academy, 22 percent of 844 respondents considered themselves unhappy at Andover. Nearly three-quarters of students believe that their commitments at Andover have negatively impacted their overall health. Furthermore, 13 percent of respondents indicated that they engaged in self-harm while at Andover.
Despite these startling statistics, fewer than 48 percent of students have seen a Graham House counselor at least once. There are two common explanations for why students may not take advantage of the resources offered to them.
The first is that students with academic difficulties (a primary source of stress among the student body) are likely to see academic failure as a need to work harder, and stressed, underperforming students are more likely to retreat inward rather than ask for outside help. Often, when we are most desperate, we refuse to acknowledge that we are suffering from mental illness; we are too busy, we have “more important” things to do; we do not take the time to seek out those who could help us.
The second is that there is a stigma attached to asking for help. Students simultaneously face the stress of academic and social pressure and yet can never appear vulnerable. We may complain, but it is mostly in humble brags that do not express our more deeply rooted anxieties.
On the other side of the problem is the allegation that the school does not provide adequate resources for student wellness, a belief held by nearly half of the student body. We do spend a fairly significant amount of time discussing mental wellness, but perhaps the school should have a more active role in helping students deal with mental wellness issues.
Graham House counselors could do more to reach out to students. Proctors and prefects could receive more extensive training in recognizing various mental illnesses and unhealthy behaviors. Students should have far greater access to mental health resources and education on campus.
Individual students’ battles with mental illness pose problems to the larger Andover community as well: mental illness often has visible consequences and affects every other member of the community.
_Cem Vardar is a two-year Senior from Istanbul, Turkey._