Lake Stevens High School provides mental health resources to students

To help support student health, LSHS employs two mental health specialists, access to crisis resources, and a referral form for any student in need


Penelope Zickefoose

Counseling Center: Check in with the receptionist at the large window into the office where the counselor offices are in the hallway. The office was designed to be visible and accessible for every student. “We’re more visible now, being in this hallway, and there’s that window…Being more visible, I think it helps,” mental health support specialist Jennifer Hudson said.

People may be surprised to learn that one in every five teens experiences a mental illness. As a result, it’s important to offer effective mental health support in high schools. It’s hard to ask for help, no matter what the situation is, and it’s easy for us to wonder if we’re being a burden to others or fear their response. 

LSHS offers two designated mental health specialists to its students. One of them is Mr. Pitkin, who specializes in support for those affected by substance abuse, and Mrs. Hudson, who is a mental health support specialist with professional experience supporting trauma victims. 

The Lake Stevens School District aims to support the health of all students. The district and high school have created different tiers of support to provide for different situations in students’ lives. Whatever a student needs, the district will find some way to help them, and it’s important that every student is aware of this. The resources at this school are more efficient and helpful than most, and that deserves to be known by every student in Lake Stevens High School.

There are many different options for support, from clubs to personal sessions with a counselor or having someone to sit with at lunch. Students have access to trained professionals who are educated on the symptoms of different mental illnesses, prepared to handle them, and who truly want to help these students. 

The most important and easily accessible resource available is the Student Assistance Program (SAP) referral form.  This is a form students can fill out to refer themselves or their friends (anonymously or not) to the counseling center. This form can be used when someone is noticed acting more down than usual and when there is a fear that they might hurt themself or someone else. This form can also be used to inform the school of someone’s addiction problems, alcoholism, and to report assault or home life concerns. 

This form is not set up to be punitive or used for discipline. It is only used for students to get themselves or other students help. When a form is submitted, the counseling office will reach out and offer help to the referred student.

Aside from helping students individually and in small groups, Hudson helps advocate for mental wellness to be incorporated into policies and procedures to help educate and benefit students in our district.

Hudson helps students in a therapeutic way but does not offer therapy. Hudson doesn’t bill students, keep running records, or give a diagnosis or treatment program like a paid therapist would. 

Her job is to help, not be a doctor. Part of her job is to help balance how to be a student and get support. To do this, there are a few options she provides for students in moments of need.

“[If] you were in class, and you were maybe starting to well up with tears, and you felt panicky, and you just needed to get out of there, I would encourage that student to ask to go to the counseling center, and check-in with their counselor…Maybe you come down to the Counseling Center and say, ‘Hey, sometimes I feel really anxious in class, and I just need a break. Where do I come?’ And I almost guarantee that the counselor would say, ‘Come here, and then we’ll figure it out,’” Hudson said.

Students experiencing anxiety during class can visit the counseling center. To utilize this resource, students should let their teacher know where they’re going, and check in to the counseling center. So while it’s important that students only leave class when they absolutely need to, they should all know that there is always a place for them in the counseling center, which is located in the Viking Hall in the hallway leading from the cafeteria to the main office. 

Having the ability to prioritize their mental health and having supportive people by their side along the way is something that makes LSHS unique. The ability to take care of oneself with the help of the school’s staff is one way in which the school is good at providing for its students’ mental health.

Another option in a time of need is emailing to schedule a meeting with Hudson, which is the recommended way to receive support from her. If a student schedules a time to talk to Hudson, they’ll have time specifically dedicated to them, as opposed to showing up randomly when she could be meeting with a different student (though in the case of an emergency, students in crisis are always given top priority). Students are also welcome to email and schedule to have lunch with Hudson. And depending on what specifically it is that they’re struggling with, it may also be a good idea to reach out to Pitkin.

“Mr. Pitkin and I work with students interchangeably. His specialty is a little bit different because he works with prevention and intervention for substance use disorders. But also he works with people who have someone that they care about or love who’s having an addiction problem,” Hudson said.

Hudson recommends students first go to their guidance counselor, and get to know them. Get to know their name and face so that you feel comfortable talking to them – because even though their jobs are much more general and oftentimes academically focused, they are also trained and informed on mental health support. They can refer students to Hudson or Pitkin if necessary. Students can also go to their teacher for support, which might be easier, considering they see each other more often. In some cases, a teacher will accompany a student to the counseling office to Hudson and act as moral support during the first meeting. 

Having a wide variety of resources is something that makes the school’s support system so effective. If there was only one person to go to, there wouldn’t be enough time to help everyone. If there were only counselors specialized in one area of help, there wouldn’t be support for all different needs. All these things are here and available and only add to the list of things this school is doing right.

There are also websites, phone numbers, and hotlines for students to use, and there are many district-provided links to these resources. 

The time, effort, and care put into providing students with access to help in the case of a crisis or time of need are outstanding. There really is no situation that the school isn’t prepared for. At school, there is something to help everyone, no matter how helpless they may feel.

While there are many things LSHS does well for their student’s mental health, however, there is always room for improvement. There are things the district is really good at and there are things it could work on.

“Could we get better? I think so. I think the thing that I’d like to get better at here at the school is what they call ‘Tier One’ support, which means our whole building starts to, maybe, hear more messaging about mental wellness, so that all students are aware of wellness. And, perhaps, illness is not something that we shy away from talking about too,” Hudson said.

Communication is something the school can improve on. But this school is a lot more helpful than neighboring schools and is the most advanced it’s ever been.

Lake Stevens High School has many goals for its students, and one main one is the happiness and health of its students. 

“Maybe it means that you stay alive, or that, you know, that you don’t have lots of scars, physically,” Hudson said.

When students are helped or saved, the discomfort is worth it.

“I think if you graduate Lake Stevens High School, and you know how to talk to someone about what you need, or what you want…then I think we’ve been successful… It takes some effort and some bravery to approach another human and even somebody our age with a need. And so again, I would just say, if you leave the high school, being able to ask for what you need and knowing how to talk about feelings, like, even if that’s learned through your peers or through other ways, man, I think that’s a huge life skill that if you leave with that, I think you’re doing well,” Hudson said.

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