My Junior year at LC, deans and teachers alike continually encouraged us to give a talk in the common good and become a leader in the community. So, shaking violently behind the podium in Hubbard, I stood in front of my class and expressed concern over the school’s disregard for mental health. At Loomis, stress is a normal part of campus life, where pelicans are pushed to achieving their best selves. Everyone has pulled an all-nighter to study for an upcoming test and felt the pressure of an intense workload, but in the end our stress defines us as resilient in the face of adversity and above the normal work ethic of independent schools, right? Unfortunately, Loomis is entirely in line with the national average of ninety percent of students reporting high or extreme levels of stress. Even worse, this amount of stress might not be as harmless or fortifying as it once appeared. Few students stop to ask what the repercussions of stress are. What happens when students reveal the hopelessness that consumes them? And where does the Loomis community go from there? Loomis has released statistics of the school’s health survey, and the conversation on mental health has finally been pushed into the open.
The senior class fell silent upon finding out that nineteen percent of students have felt so hopeless every day for two weeks that their regular schedule was affected. What’s worse, fifty-five students have contemplated suicide and twenty-eight had developed a plan. Both of these numbers coincide with the national average of students at independent schools. Dean Liscinsky expressed that depression “raised more questions than anything else” in the survey. Just how much does this hopelessness interfere with student lives? How are students coping with depression and are they aware of the school’s available resources? In my mind, the biggest question from the survey’s results is what’s next?
Dean Donegan reported that the school is attempting to “zero in on stress” and find answers to the questions raised by the survey. While Dean Dongean understands the intense stress students face as they “are changing more now, both physically and emotionally, than ever.” But he still wishes to find root causes that the school can actively change, to lessen the strain on students’ lives. Dean Liscinsky explored the concept of integrating faculty into the solution by holding another mental health program for the faculty and creating a “checklist” for advisors when it comes to checking in on students. Most importantly, both the deans expressed an earnest desire for students to weigh in on the problem and offer up their own ideas for decreasing stress on campus. Dean Liscinsky explained that while she doesn’t want students to feel burdened to find an answer to the mental heath issue on campus, she does view the students as possessing powerful ideas that can initiate great change among other students on campus.
In my mind, the first step towards bettering the mental health of our students is to open up the conversation of mental health and not shy away from uncomfortable topics like depression and suicide. The school has put great planning into mental health programs in the past, and I know that our school is capable of having a mature, poignant conversation on stress on campus and feelings of depression and suicide. All too often, boarding schools are epicenters for stress and emotional sacrifice in the race towards academic excellence. As a school, Loomis should take steps to become the boarding school that really makes mental health a priority and ends the stigma on campuses.