CASSY preps to move to center of campus

September 10, 2018 — by Manasi Garg, Alekhya Vadlakonda and Christine Zhang

For dozens of students who use its mental health services, CASSY is a safe space. CASSY provides them assistance and support, ranging from talking through ways for alleviating stress to seeking medical help for mental illnesses.

In the 2017-2018 school year alone, CASSY provided ongoing services to 220 students and gave 70 parent consultations. In total, CASSY provided 4,800 hours of counseling last year.

According to therapist Shelley Moeller, CASSY is an outside agency that was brought to Saratoga High to provide support for students. It was first implemented on campus in the year following the high-profile suicide of sophomore Audrie Pott in 2012 and has become an integral part of the school’s culture in the years since.

Currently, the school’s CASSY service is staffed with two experienced therapists: Moeller, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Kaitlin Eastland, a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern (MFTi).  

Unlike most other mental health services, CASSY’s sessions  are free to students, and students are welcome to simply walk in and chat with a therapist when they need to. Further appointments can be made with the therapists depending on the student’s availability.

“I see my role on campus as supporting students,” Moeller said. “We create a safe place for students to come talk about whatever they need to talk about.”

Although CASSY’s two therapists say they will happily aid any students in need of help, they are mandated reporters required by the state of California to report instances of physical and sexual abuse to Child Protective Services. They will also report students with definitive plans of suicide to their parents, doctors or Uplift Family Services. However, confidentiality is preserved for students with occasional thoughts, not plans, of self-harm or suicide.


CASSY’s move to the center of the school

Currently, CASSY is located in a portal building behind the 200 building in a little-known part of campus. Although this location offers privacy to its users, others may not use it because it’s so far out of the way.

This spring, CASSY will be relocated to the new student/wellness center being constructed in the 800 building.

The student/wellness center’s primary objective will be to allow students to hang out in a comfortable setting. With CASSY at the center of campus, students will be able to drop in and chat with counselors without having to go out of their way. In addition to CASSY, the student/wellness center will also host Leadership classes and provide conference rooms that are open to all students.

One of the other main goals of relocating CASSY to the middle of campus is to destigmatize mental health, Moeller said.

According to Psychology Today, mental health stigma is divided into two distinct types: social stigma and perceived stigma. Social stigma is caused by discrimination against individuals with mental health issues, and it is the more well known of the two.

Perceived stigma, also known as self-stigma, stems from within the afflicted individual. The individual’s internalized discriminatory attitudes towards mental illness lead to feelings of shame about their condition.

Moeller hopes that the idea of a wellness center will diffuse both negative stigmas surrounding mental health.

“The move to the 800 building will hopefully make CASSY a more common place for students to hang out,” she said. “They could start some groups on anxiety, or just talk about whatever’s bothering them.”

Moeller said that principal Paul Robinson has wanted to start a student/wellness center for many years and has finally been able to make it happen due to funding from Measure E, a bond that has provided the district with money to renovate the campus.

When asked about the reason for moving the CASSY center, Robinson said that he wanted to give the CASSY therapists a more spacious place. He also hopes that by moving CASSY to a more centralized area on campus, CASSY’s services would not only become more accessible to students, but also help normalize seeking mental health services.

Robinson had the opportunity to visit high schools in San Francisco with wellness centers and said that the success they had with their centers prompted him to make the change and centralize CASSY’s location.

“Once the school actually put it right in the heart of campus, it grew in how many students it was serving and what types of services they can offer to students,” Robinson said.

With CASSY more prominently located, the therapists likewise believe that they will be able to reach more students.

“I think being in the wellness center might make the students more comfortable,” Moeller said. “Hopefully, we’ll have somebody out front that greets students, lets their teachers know they’re here and lets them schedule appointments with therapists.”

Moeller also said that she hopes the move to central campus will bring more support for CASSY, as well as help integrate it into the school’s culture.

But Moeller said that moving CASSY to a more exposed area on campus would perhaps present a disadvantage for a few students who feel self-conscious about seeking help, saying that students sometimes “feel more comfortable with it [at the edge of campus because] it feels more private.”

Nonetheless, Moeller said the advantages outweigh the one possible disadvantage this move might present.

“I think there’s so much importance in working on our mental life,” she said. “That’ll just be more commonplace in a wellness center.”

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