It seems to be perfect timing that while there is a 20 percent increase of Keene State College students seeking counseling, a newly established group of students is being trained to be on the lookout to offer support to students across campus.

The group, known as the Student Support Network, is not a result of the 20 percent increase, as they are both separate occurrences.

However, members of the Counseling Center are optimistic for the impact it can have in KSC students’ lives.

Counseling Center Director Brian Quigley said this 20 percent increase “is a big jump.” He said this increase is in addition to last year’s 15 percent overall increase of students seeking therapy.

It appears many feet have treaded up the three flights of stairs to the Counseling Center located in the Elliot Center on-campus. While Quigley said he didn’t know the exact reason for this year’s expansion, he emphasized that the Counseling Center doesn’t see this as a problem.

He also noted that as a culture, we are moving toward more acceptance of therapy for ourselves and others. This action has allowed more people to feel comfortable pursuing therapy, meaning KSC isn’t the only place with an increase in students seeking aid.

However, Quigley said he understands therapy could be daunting for some. He explained students are more likely to reach out to their peers and friends than a counselor. He said, “[Research] shows that no matter how hard we work as college mental health people, [roughly] 77 percent of students, when they’re having a hard time, turn to their friends.”

He said only about 20 percent of students turn to the professionals. It was through this understanding that propelled the Counseling Center to create the Student Support Network.

When asked if the Student Support group was made as a potential solution for the budgetary issues KSC is facing, Quigley said they were unrelated.

He continued to say members of higher administration at KSC, including President Anne Huot, have placed a unique value on the counseling services available for students.

Quigley said as budget concerns have evolved over the past few years, the Counseling Center has yet to be severely affected. He said, “The messaging has been pretty clear that we need to be sure we’re operating more efficiently as an institution without it being at the expense of the safety and well-being of college students here at KSC.”

Counselor Forrest Seymour, who’s overseeing the Student Support Network , said the group entails essentially six weeks of training on how to identify and support students in distress.

Seymour explained that the training will include topics such as anxiety, depression, suicide, empathy and basic helping skills.

He emphasized that these students in training will not then be qualified as counselors; they will have professional KSC counselors available to reach out to.

“What it really is, is a leadership training,” Seymour said. “We’re training students to just have a better sense of what’s going on with each other and how to support each other….and how to connect their peers with services, whether it’s the Counseling Center or something else,” he continued.

Seymour said the Student Support Network might be beneficial for students who just need to rant about an issue.

Samantha Moore / Art Director

Samantha Moore / Art Director

However, he said, “What we’re really hoping and expecting [to] happen is that two other kinds of groups will benefit from this besides the students getting trained,” he said.

Seymour said these two groups include students who have never tried counseling before so they could understand the benefits and students who had tried it before, but had gotten out of the routine of it.

There are 15 students involved with this training, which Seymour said meant the Counseling Center met their goal. He said the future goal is to offer this training “two or three times a semester and to eventually have 10 percent of the student body trained.” These 15 students were nominated by faculty and staff and Seymour described them as “natural helpers.”

KSC sophomore and member of the Student Support Network Callie Grotton said she’s being trained to reach out to students who might need someone to talk to. “They’re going to train us to read people’s emotions, how to tell if someone is emotionally upset or they’re not feeling right,” she said.

Grotton acknowledged that some students may feel intimidated by talking to a professional. “They’re (students are) more comfortable talking to a fellow student. We’re going through college and it’s a stressful time,” she said.

She said privacy is of the utmost importance, outside of emergent situations (harm to oneself or another). Grotton said, “If someone comes to me, I’m not going to tell my best friend, like ‘Oh this person came to me.’ That’s just not acceptable at all. I’m going into this expecting that they are trusting in me and that information’s only for me, but if there are cases that I need to reach out to someone to get more help, I have to do that.”

Grotton said at first she was hesitant to join after being nominated because of an already busy schedule. She said, however, she changed her mind after thinking it over.

“The more I thought about it, the more I was like everyone needs someone to talk to, whether it’s a friend or just anyone. I hate to think there’s people out there who literally have no one to talk to and just need a friend, just need someone to talk to…I would like to be that person for someone,” she said.

Grotton said that if people don’t have that opportunity to talk, things will just get worse.

“When you bottle everything up, you will eventually just have a meltdown and it’ll be big and it’ll be bad if you just hold everything in. I just think it’s so important to talk to someone because they may be able to help you with an issue,” Grotton said.

Grotton said it’s imperative that people don’t assume a random person can’t help. She said, “You never know how someone can help you in any way, whether it is that they just lend an ear…or they may even have a solution.”

One student who wished to remain unamed said he received counseling while he was in high school. He said it really helped him with his depression and he thought the efforts of the Student Support Network could help students in need. “It can’t hurt,” he said.

If a student is in immediate need of counseling aid, they can call (603) 358-2437 during the week, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or (603) 358-2436 for all other times to speak with a counselor on-call.

Dorothy England can be contacted at dengland@kscequinox.com