Deborah Mitchell has been a mental health counselor at SLV for the past nine years– and until a few months ago, some students weren’t even aware her position existed.
This year, Ms. Mitchell occupies a comfortable room in the counseling office, easily accessible and with regular hours. For the past two years, she’s been operating out of a secluded space next to the detention classroom. “It really wasn’t somewhere students felt comfortable”, she lamented in a recent interview.
Aside from her change in location, Ms. Mitchell also feels that she’s more involved in the SLV community than in previous years. Being brought in to support students is extremely important to her.
Last year, many students might have benefited from her counseling, but she believes that “people weren’t used to reaching out.”
The biggest shift she’s seen in her counseling sessions is that she’s no longer contacted solely for crisis intervention, and she is now able to provide support for students and families before problems escalate.
Ms. Mitchell is a hugely important resource that the previous administration did not make easily accessible to students.
She provides a welcoming and safe environment, in which students can approach her with any problems or concerns. Students can talk with her about stress and problems with peers.
At student request, she can even talk with the parents of a student, providing the necessary tools for students and their families to navigate systems outside of school to build comprehensive support networks.
She’s working to turn the focus towards caring for the whole person. Often, she tries to stress the importance of educating students on their own ‘uniqueness’ and helping them realize what kind of support would be best for them as an individual.
Ms. Mitchell seeks to reduce the stigma of mental illness and recognizes that often, people living with mental illness are seen as less worthy of help and support than physical illness.
She is also a proponent of person-first language. As she puts it, “You wouldn’t say that a person ‘is cancer’. Someone’s mental illness can be a huge part of their identity, but it isn’t what defines them.”
Some teachers encourage students to confide in them, and she recognizes that there is a natural desire to promise that secrets will be kept confidential, but that doesn’t change the fact that educators cannot hold a student’s confidence if someone is in harm’s way. She stresses the fact that this is because she and other staff members want to help students stay safe and healthy.
Her recent change in location has made it much easier for students to get in contact with her, and the increased visibility means that more are seeking help from her. Ms. Mitchell’s email is always open, and she assured us that when she sees a student email in her inbox, responding becomes her first priority.
Ms. Mitchell is extremely passionate about being an active part of the SLVHS community. Her message to students is to remember that holding back from seeking help when it’s needed isn’t strength and that her purpose at the school is to support students.
Students can find Ms. Mitchell in the counseling office from 7:30 to 3:30 on Tuesday and Thursday, or during her half-day on Friday.
By Kahlo Smith