Hidden Help

Student support groups help those in need


Angela Miller ’21 used to close her eyes in resignation as the final bell rang. Students around her chatted excitedly as they packed up their belongings, while Miller readied herself for another uncomfortable evening. School provided a separation from her tumultuous home environment, a sense of normalcy in the chaos. The classroom quickly began to empty, and Miller forced her thoughts aside, clearing her desk while pushing down the onslaught of negativity in her head. 

When she was a freshman, Miller’s method for coping with her uncomfortable home environment was simply avoidance. Now, as a senior, she is able to tackle her emotions with the help of one of Stevenson’s student support groups. Miller is a member of Children of Addicts, (COA) a group that has helped her healthily cope with her emotions rather than bottling them all up. 

“Now in the group, I have been able to understand why I am feeling what I am feeling, how to tackle my emotions and how to support others when we are all going through stuff,” Miller said.

Other than learning how to better manage her emotions, Miller also found a support system that she can rely on. By joining the group, she has established a space where she can freely express herself to people who understand her struggles.

“I don’t have any other friends going through the exact same thing, so it is really comforting knowing that we are all going through the same thing,” Miller said.

While Children of Addicts provides a healthy environment for an emotional outlet for students in similar situations, each of the 11 support groups at Stevenson supplies students with an equally safe space to cope with their unique circumstances. Sarah Zhang ’21 expressed similar sentiments regarding the beneficial environment of her support group Be You, which is primarily focused on empowering young women.

“I think, for one, everyone is feeling the same way, so some people find comfort in knowing that other people are also feeling these feelings,” Zhang said. “It is comforting just knowing that everyone else feels the same.”

Not only do support groups create environments where students feel comfortable sharing their burdens with like-minded individuals, but they also provide a setting where students can create lasting friendships. Miller attests to this with her own personal experience having made valuable connections in her support group.

“I would say my favorite part about being in this group is probably bonding with people you would not have known prior,” Miller said. “For example, one person was in my Spanish class and I had no idea about this other side to them, but it helped us bond and without this group we may have not have been friends.”

In addition to creating a comfortable atmosphere where people can interact with new peers, these support groups also help students overcome their trauma and find solutions to their problems. Janet Sushinski, the COA facilitator, encourages the students to look at their situation from a new perspective. 

“When someone shares, they realize that they are not alone and that they too can recover and heal from the traumas they have had to endure,” Sushinski said. “I also work hard on making sure they don’t see themselves as victims, but as survivors.”

Many students find that the facilitator plays a crucial role in enabling them to feel safe and secure in the support groups. COVID-19 has only emphasized the importance of the safe environment in these support groups due to the vulnerability of some students’ situation at home.

“One thing that has been hard for a few people and I in this support group is that we Zoom from home and everything is going on at home,” Miller said. “School was kind of a separation.”

Despite the difficulties presented by COVID-19, both Miller and Zhang still attest to the effectiveness and importance of support groups. However, while they believe that the support groups have been helpful, they also noticed the lack of awareness Stevenson’s student body has regarding these groups and their impacts.

“I think the Student Support Team (SST) usually recommends it [support groups] to people; there’s not a lot of public advertisement about support groups,” Zhang said.

Both Miller and Zhang had been briefly introduced to support groups as freshman, but they were never heavily publicized as a resource aside from that momentary introduction. After realizing they needed help, they both personally reached out to their SST team to learn more about the support groups. 

Although both Miller and Zhang feel like the groups are relatively obscure, they recognize the support groups as extremely beneficial towards their respective situations. Zhang said she hopes that more students can find comfort in these support groups as she and Miller did.

“If someone wants help, or if they have a friend that needs help, they should talk to their SST and see what support groups they can participate in,” Zhang said.

*To protect the identity of the student sources, Angela Miller and Sarah Zhang are pseudonyms used in this story.*