by Ary Hammerman ’25
On Friday, April 7, TLS held its third annual SMHAC (Student Mental Health Awareness Committee) student panel, in which TLS students shared their stories with their mental health struggles. SMHAC leaders Zoe Alsfine ‘24 and Shugie Shvil ‘24 planned and ran this panel, and those speaking included Lauren Block ‘23, Mira Schulman ‘24, Robin Bosworth ‘24, Alex Katzen ‘24, Sam Duke ‘25, Lana Benzino ‘25, Ayla Palesfki ‘25, Elias Kirchner ‘25 and Eliana Pell ‘26.
Pell, who has struggled with anxiety, discussed her emotions leading up to the panel.
“I was a little nervous,” Pell said. “But also, I was ready for people to understand more [about mental health struggles], which I think is sometimes hard for people.”
The process of preparing for the panel involved speaking to the leaders of SMHAC, writing a speech, and practicing a couple of times with everyone who would be speaking. Alsfine wanted to ensure that everyone who wanted to speak would be comfortable sharing their story.
“We don’t want anyone to feel pressured into doing something like this,” Alsfine said. “We want it to come from a genuine place of awareness and of telling your story. We met with everybody individually for about two weeks before the panel helping everybody really shape their stories and become more confident in sharing it with others.”
Following the panel, Mira Schulman, who has struggled with OCD, reflected on her experience.
“I’m super proud of myself and everyone who spoke because considering how nervous we were, the reaction was super positive,” Schulman said. “I think it’s important that everyone knows that they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through.”
Alsfine agrees as to why this panel is so important at TLS.
“When you’re 15, it’s really hard to understand what’s going on in your brain and it’s really easy to feel like you’re alone in that,” Alsfine said. “And I think the panel and the people who are brave enough to speak on the panel, are able to maybe brighten a little bit of somebody’s life that they don’t understand and maybe bring them a little bit of hope that it can get better in some of the ways that it has gotten better for other people.”
Shvil also feels that the panel is a great addition to the environment at TLS.
“It raises awareness on a whole new level,” Shvil said. “When you hear these are things that are common and people don’t just see them on TV shows about mental disorders, [it brings it to life]. It’s actually something that the person right next to you is going through. It also helps people be more sensitive about what they say and how they act around others.
The SMHAC student panel is very important to the environment at TLS. SMHAC has also recently worked on a variety of new initiatives to support student mental health. There is now, under the resources tab on the website, a folder where students can go for links to mental health hotlines and emails to reach out to for support.
Dr. Bill Blank, TLS psychologist, helps to guide SMHAC and support students at TLS. He also recognizes the importance of the panel.
“Understanding that many of our students are struggling, it is important to destigmatize mental health issues,” Blank said. “It is bad enough to feel bad, let’s not make it worse by having kids feel alone with their struggles. A program like this normalizes anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges and aims to remove the stigma associated with them.”