As every person on the Andover campus knows well, Andover students are under a constant amount of stress. We are lucky enough to have free counseling offered through the wellness center—outside options are usually quite expensive, and therefore only available to a part of the population. The fact that Andover offers free counseling at all is a privilege, but it should not stop us from holding the school accountable. As you may have heard, the Sykes Wellness Center is switching to a bi-weekly model for counseling. This should have everyone at Andover wondering how much our school truly cares about mental health.
Andrew McRitchie, a counselor at Sykes, said in an article from last week’s issue of The Phillipian that a “significant rise in demand for mental health services, particularly from adolescents” is not proof that mental health is getting worse. But as the same article cited, “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness among United States of America high schoolers increased from 26.1 percent to 36.7 percent between 2009 and 2019, even before the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Demand at Andover is increasing—but was also higher before Covid-19. According to the State of the Academy (SOTA) from 2022, 36.3 percent of the student body have seen a Sykes counselor. According to the SOTA from 2021, only 30.6 percent of students had seen a counselor, but this was during the pandemic—a time when many students were off campus. However, in the SOTA from 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017 these numbers were 42.2 percent, 42.4 percent, 44 percent, and 41 percent, respectively. While the number of people utilizing counseling is increasing since Covid-19 changed the world, Sykes has been handling much greater demand before the pandemic. We are quickly returning to normal, but an ever-lengthening waitlist shows that Sykes can’t seem to handle what they have in the past. This inability to keep up with rising numbers in patients proves that Andover needs to provide more mental health resources. Students produce their best work when they are mentally well, and that is much easier to achieve when there are people there to support you.
Besides, resources at Sykes should not be disappearing, regardless of how many people need them. I began counseling in the spring term of my Freshman year, but, as much as I wanted to, did not continue because I did not connect with my counselor. I started counseling again in my winter term of Lower year, and had a counselor who I loved. She supported me throughout the school year. But when I returned to campus for my Upper year, I learned that she no longer worked here. Still, I decided that involving myself in counseling would be beneficial to my well-being. Once again, I formed an incredible connection to my counselor and looked forward to counseling each week. Then I was informed that our meetings would have to shift to biweekly. A couple weeks later, she told me that she would be leaving the school. In my three years at Andover, I have had three counselors—none of whom will be employed at the school by the end of this term. We have heard that Andover is dedicated to doing its best for its students, and helping out wherever it can. But with an unreliable counseling system, much of that feels like a false promise.
Students are often reminded of the importance of support systems, especially trusted adults. That’s a counselor’s job. But forming connections with counselors requires consistency, which is difficult to achieve with counselors when many stay for a year or less. I know people who have given up on therapy because of this unreliability. One term you might manage to find an incredible counselor, just to find out they will be leaving the school. Having to constantly rebuild a relationship with a counselor is tiring, and takes time that many students simply do not want to waste.
Ultimately, the squeeze for spaces in counseling can be blamed on a long history of Andover not paying enough attention to their student’s mental health. Although there are fantastic opportunities for support systems on campus, it is crucial to remember that Andover runs as a business. Almost everyone on campus has made jokes about the “billion dollar endowment,” and all the flaws the school has regardless of its money. With this endowment, the administration could create a better environment for counselors so they stay in their positions—but they choose not to. Instead, the administration has tried to propose other (notably less expensive) mental health resources, such as the Peer Listeners program. However, Peer Listeners are trained to refer high-level concerns to counselors in special cases, which still gives counselors a vital role on campus.
Clearly, mental health at Andover is suffering. On top of all the stressors Andover students usually have, we are recovering from (and still affected by) a global pandemic. Coming to this school, we are supposed to learn how to be independent. An important part of this is knowing how and when to ask for help. Having a support system does not make you less capable, but shows that you are able to reach out and utilize your resources. Being able to ask for counseling is a powerful decision that no person should have to wait for. We have seen the amount of change that students can bring to this campus, and the only way adults can know what change we want is if we fight for it. While there are limits to what the student body can accomplish, we should not be discouraged from fighting for what we believe is important. And what could be more important than our wellbeing?