When asked how we’re doing, most Lovett students, including myself, respond immediately by talking about grades, sports or extracurriculars, which isn’t a bad thing, because if people are trying to make small talk, they probably don’t really want to know how we are, deep down.
But while most people aren’t used to talking about their mental health, the importance of mental health should not be underestimated or pushed under the rug. After all, if someone had cancer, we would treat that extremely seriously.
For this edition of “Veronika Asks…” I spoke to Chase Jones, one of the Lovett guidance counselors and the director of the guidance department. Unlike my previous editions of this column where I’d ask things I always wanted to know about a field, for this one we mainly ended up chatting about the value of taking care of one’s mental health.
When I asked him about how important mental health is, he said, “Well, it's my entire world and I think it’s extremely important. When studying things such as psychology and mental health, and the ideas of humans thoughts and behaviors, it would be ridiculous to not fold in how someone was thinking and feeling and doing mentally. You can’t have one without the other.”
At Lovett, we don’t hear much about mental health which can lead us to question what Lovett is doing. What are they doing, if anything? Is there a lot going on that we don’t see? According to Mr. Jones, “Lovett does do a good job, but what I would say is that we don’t promote that.” He pointed out that if “Student L [the L for Lovett] comes down and needs to meet with me, L’s teachers and parents and faculty will all come to L’s support, however we just do it behind the scenes and closed doors.”
There is, however, a method to the madness. Mr. Jones explained that things are done this way “to help support [the student] while also not drawing attention to or violating someone's privacy.” But the lack of openness “allows people to make up their own narrative and they may think ‘oh they’re doing nothing.’” While he acknowledges one could debate whether keeping things quiet is a good or bad thing, he hopes students understand that there is a reason behind their cautious approach.
When asked how the average person could improve their mental health so it doesn’t get to a point where there is a need for intervention, Mr. Jones says that his best advice is for students and just people in general to have more of a “margin in their life.” From his perspective, the average Lovett student “tends to not do well...allowing that space and time to just be. For example, if one has a free period, we ask if you want to take another elective, online class, a tenth class etc. We promote ‘doing more’ and I believe in that of course, but one needs to make a bit of space in their lives to just unwind.”
However, he is quick to point out that this not only applies to Lovett but just society in general, as we are programmed to think of productivity as work in the classroom or on the field as opposed to just working at being happy or content. Both take work. Both should be appreciated.
Let’s take a break from discussing the average person. What about how Lovett helps people with diagnosed mental illnesses. “We’re not a therapeutic boarding school,” he said, “where you’re going to school and also working on your mental health, and here we believe, for good or bad, that academics come first, then extracurriculars, and then ‘oh, how’s your mental health.’ Maybe this balance we have going on isn’t working. However, if we know about a diagnosis 1000% we are going to help the student, however we would never disclose that diagnosis to anyone else as we operate under strict guidelines and laws that protect and value privacy.”
That begs the question: what is true confidentiality? If a student saw Mr. Jones or another Lovett counselor, would the counselor be able to report if the student, for example, drank or did drugs? If they committed a crime? In response to this question, Mr. Jones opened by saying that “we have the standard things we have to disclose such as if you are going to hurt yourselves or someone else, or if you report elder or child abuse, or if you know of someone being abused in any arena.”
However, he added that there are more ambiguous situations. “The other things you mentioned fall into sort of a grey area. So to do this, we determine the level of severity with what a student is partaking in. Whether the student got drunk once, or if they had a drinking problem.” He explained that if the latter was the case they wouldn’t be ‘reporting’ it in a sense but just try to gather a team of people to help the student become a better person and the person they want to be deep down. They may draw your family in, while holding confidentiality with the goal of helping the student feel supported and healthy.
At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.