For the past five weeks, a group of students have met in 24 College Street every Friday night to drink tea and talk about their mental health and how they are adjusting to Bowdoin. The group, which is unaffiliated with the College and does not have an official name, is sometimes referred to by its leaders as the Peer to Peer Mental Health Group. 

“A couple students and I basically decided that there was a gap in Bowdoin’s resources for people suffering from mental illness or for people who think they might be suffering from mental illness,” said group leader Phoebe Kranefuss ’16.  “So much of mental illness thrives in solitude and secrecy, so I think the first step is destigmatizing and allowing people to have a place to acknowledge that Bowdoin is not all hunky dory, which I think it can seem to a lot of people.”

Kranefuss and Patrick Toomey ’17 originally spoke about the idea following an article Kranefuss wrote in the Orient about mental health from earlier this semester. According to Kranefuss, many students told her how happy they were that issues of mental health were being discussed. She and Toomey then spoke with Tim Coston ’17 and Associate Director of Health Promotions Whitney Hogan. Hogan then suggested they also work with Anna Reyes ’15, Ryan Sanderson ’16 and Noah Salzman ’17. 

The leaders do not plan on making the group officially affiliated with the College so that all feel welcome to attend and speak about anything they feel is important. 

“Sometimes we vent about our day. Sometimes we talk about something good that’s going on,” said Kranefuss. “Usually the conversation just organically flows past the hour that’s designated.”

Toomey and others worry that students fear that if college administration were to find out they were dealing with issues of mental health, their enrollment may be affected. 

“Part of the reason it’s not affiliated with the College is that we wanted people to come who otherwise might be worried about the administration of the College finding out about any issues that they’re dealing with,” said Toomey. 

“We don’t have the need for funding,” said Kranefuss. “And I think it’s actually easier to keep it unaffiliated with Bowdoin just because it gives us more leeway to talk about whatever it is we want.”

The group started with eight participants and has since grown to around 20 students. According to Kranefuss, soon, the members will need to split the group up in order to maintain the quality of discussions.

“There is something about being able to speak with your peers and speak with people who struggle with either the same things—whether it be depression, anxiety, OCD, disordered eating—or different and getting their input on your situation as opposed to speaking to a medical professional,” said Toomey.