The Blues are Back in Town

Sykes will be shifting to a biweekly counseling model, according to the September 30, 2022 issue of The Phillipian. Amid continued calls for more robust mental health resources at Andover and increasing nationwide demand for mental healthcare, campus has reacted critically, and understandably so, to this news. 

Indeed, in recent years, Andover has drawn criticism from students who claim that Sykes’ counseling services are short-staffed or otherwise inaccessible. Currently operating with four full-time counselors (with a planned capacity of five) for a campus of almost 1,200, Sykes is shifting to a biweekly counseling schedule in part because it is unable to offer weekly, one-on-one counseling for all students who express need—an effort that would require dozens of counselors, according to Dr. Amy Patel, Dean of Health and Wellness and Chief Medical Officer at Sykes Wellness Center. 

Instead, Patel, along with Raj Mundra, Dean of Studies, have indicated that Sykes will attempt to supplement lessened counseling services with offerings such as workshops and off-campus counseling. However, with an already extensive waitlist for counseling, many students have expressed frustration at Sykes’ decision to shift to a biweekly model over expanding one-on-one services and hiring additional staff. 

This frustration has led many students to wonder: why has an increased demand for mental health resources prompted Andover to revise preexisting support systems that are time-tested and effective? The overwhelming sentiment among students indicates that shortcomings in Andover’s mental health resources lie primarily in problems in accessibility and consistency. A shift to a biweekly schedule, no matter how robust workshop or non-counseling offerings become, will not address the issues central to student mental wellness on campus. Instead of proposing to reinvent how mental support has been traditionally administered, Sykes should seek to support pre-existing programs that have already proven to help students.

In a News article published this issue, both Patel and Mundra reportedly explained that the shift in Sykes’ offerings does not mean that students will not be able to access mental health care at Andover, but rather, that mental health programming will be broadened beyond the scope of one-on-one counseling. While we are hopeful this change will lead to increased mental health offerings at Andover—a resource that is deeply needed—it cannot serve as a replacement for robust, integrated support systems at Andover. 

Adolescent mental health has seen a downward trend over the past few years, both prior to and as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. At Andover, this trend is reflected in our history as well. Current seniors, for instance, will remember discussions over reduced Personal Time in the 2019-2020, their freshman years. Seniors, and some Uppers, may remember Sykes’ Oasis and sleep rooms, installed in 2019, that allowed students to miss one class per term catch up on sleep during the day—these same students, then, may also remember these resources quietly but surely disappearing in the past two years, as pre-pandemic supports have been either infeasible, or simply, forgotten.

We at The Phillipian believe that mental health is central to student wellness at Andover. We are not only able to endure, but thrive, under high-pressure, rigorous environments when our mental health is taken seriously and supported. While we strongly believe that Andover should not only return to a weekly counseling system, but also hire additional counselors to better support student health, we also recognize at the same time that this may not be realistic for our school at the moment, for a variety of reasons. To this end, we suggest re-implementing personal time and Sykes sleep rooms as an intermediate solution. As much as we hope that Sykes will take steps to ensure that weekly, on-campus one-on-one counseling is available to all students, we believe that readopting institutionally-integrated solutions to mental health will constitute a significant first step towards this goal. After all, we’ve done it before—we can do it again.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, Vol. CXLV.