The Case for the Coping Skills Project

The past couple of years have not been great for mental health, especially for teenagers. Countless sources like the CDC and Medical News Today have shown that anxiety levels have skyrocketed. Lakeside students are no exception. That is where Lakeside’s Mental Health Advocacy Committee (MHAC) comes in. Spearheaded by Cassia W. ’23, the Committee’s Coping Skills Project (CSP) was proposed to the administration in January of 2022. To quote the official project document, the CSP is designed to “provide an easy way for students to deal with depression, anxiety, stress, or whatever else they are dealing with” by putting resources in the bathrooms around campus. The resources include ice packs and sour candy, both used to distract from overwhelming feelings. Rubber bands and sharpies may be included as well, as safe alternatives to self harm. These tools are sourced from DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), psychotherapy methods that aim to change negative thinking patterns both in the short and long-term. However, the short-term effects of these psychotherapy techniques are the focus of this project, as the goal is to de-escalate crises in the moment, not solve all mental health issues.

Although a walk outside to the counseling center is sometimes nice, it is often simply not realistic when your mind is in a panicked state.”

I have had panic attacks at school. From what I know about Lakeside students, many people have had panic attacks at school. I cannot speak on other people’s experiences, but when I am having a panic attack, my tendency is to find somewhere quiet and nearby, like a bathroom. Only 22.7% of Tatler poll respondents (17 students) stated that the counseling center is always an accessible location where they could go in a moment of crisis, and I tend to agree. Although a walk outside to the counseling center is sometimes nice, it is often simply not realistic when your mind is in a panicked state.

Cassia told me that the idea first came up when thinking about their personal student support plan, which allows them to go to the counseling center in St. Nick’s to use coping skills that work for them. However, the counseling center is not always close enough to their classes to make it worthwhile. They wanted to “have something that was closer and also more accessible to all students, and also is just a way to spread information about different coping skills.”

Cassia says the CSP “is in huge demand from students. This is something that we need. We need a more reliable option. It is not trying to replace the counselors, but is there for students when they need it in the moment.” 78.5% of Tatler poll responses (63 students) indicated that they want crisis counseling resources in the bathrooms, while 17.7% (14 students) were undecided, and only 3.8% (4 students) said they did not. 

The plan for the project itself is to put CSP boxes in every Lakeside bathroom. These boxes would include the coping tools mentioned above, as well as a booklet detailing how the items can be used. The cost calculated by Cassia for the project comes up to under $100 for the initial installation, plus additional costs for refilling the boxes, as all products are single-use. MHAC would take charge in the maintenance of the boxes. This information was all sent to the administration in an official proposal.

The CSP [Coping Skills Project] is designed to ‘provide an easy way for students to deal with depression, anxiety, stress, or whatever else they are dealing with’ by putting resources in the bathrooms around campus.”

The administration rejected the original proposal. Dr. Sjoberg – one of the school’s counselors – has listed a few concerns that she has about the project. Firstly, she said that “we want to balance the message that everything here is terrible. And I’m not saying that that’s what the message is. But when I hear people say that lots of students are struggling with mental health, I worry that that’s become the narrative.” Secondly, she has concerns about the bathrooms becoming too messy and the resources being distributed inconsistently around campus. Lastly, she says that DBT and CBT work best when administered by professionals, and does not want a student to feel frustrated or helpless if a tool like an ice pack does not work for them. Although Dr. Sjoberg is glad that Lakeside students are cognizant of mental health struggles, she ultimately says of the crisis counseling resources: “It just seems easier to have them in the counseling center.” 

Cassia did not take no for an answer. On the night of February 4th, they created an online petition titled “Make crisis counseling more accessible to Lakeside students” and publicized it on social media. Many Lakesiders, including myself, have put the link to the petition on their social media to spread awareness and encourage others to sign. Within days, it had hundreds of signatures from students, parents, and teachers at Lakeside. As of the time of writing, the Lakeside administration has yet to publicly respond to the petition. However, the counselors are open to dialogue and are working with the MHAC to come to a mutually agreeable solution. Whether or not you believe that you will ever personally benefit from the CSP, I urge you to sign the petition to improve mental health support at our school. We could possibly see the CSP implemented in some form or another in the future.