Bri Tricomi-Smith knows how special college can be. She still recalls her own “incredible” undergraduate experience studying human services at Fitchburg State University, where she deepened her skillset in helping people and families with developmental challenges and mental health issues.
That led to a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Salem State University, and a recent job conducting evaluations for the Lahey Crisis Team inside the Beverly Hospital Emergency Room. But working with young people was always her dream, and Tricomi-Smith is now living it in a new role as Outreach Counselor for Endicott’s Wellness Center.
It’s a relatively new entity that came together in the fall of 2021 when the College merged its Health and Counseling Centers into the more holistic-focused Wellness Center. The move came at a time when institutions around the country were grappling with an unprecedented influx of students seeking help for mental health distress.
With the addition of Tricomi-Smith, the Wellness Center now staffs five full-time counselors and one part-time counselor and works in conjunction with healthcare provider Middleton Family Medicine.
“College is such an amazing time in someone’s budding life,” Tricomi-Smith said. “It’s a time when you’re building yourself and finding yourself and that’s what really drew me to college counseling.”
On February 15, the Wellness Center will host the inaugural Wellness Fair in Lower Callahan from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Students are invited to learn about mental health in an upbeat, informal way—there’ll be puppies from Cape Ann Animal Shelter—as well as interactive games and tables to highlight all aspects of wellness, including emotional, physical, relational, spiritual, academic, and social health.
Since the pandemic, the demand for mental health services has soared for young people and that trend is only getting worse. Thankfully, young people are also more open in requesting help and discussing previously verboten topics like depression and anxiety.
“We’re in the age of social media and people and celebrities are broadcasting their lives, their mental health, their struggles,” said Director of Counseling Maureen Gebhardt. “In past generations and in certain cultures it was always, ‘Well, we don’t talk about that.’”
Gebhardt said that 57% of students seeking counseling services in the fall of 2022 were first-year students and quite a few student-athletes. Their concerns? Everything from anxiety and suicidality to gender identity struggles and eating disorders.
Being separated from one’s home origin can be both liberating and crippling for incoming students, noted Tricomi-Smith.
“You’re getting the rug ripped out from under you,” she said. “Some of these students are from out of state, and they don’t know the area, and that comes with some difficulties.”
Managing those difficulties leads to resiliency—a key tool that Gebhardt’s team emphasizes.
“Leaving home is the biggest step they’ve ever taken in their life, and growth comes with that,” Tricomi-Smith said. “Self-discovery is so crucial and unique to this college transition.”
While the demand for one-on-one counseling remains high, Gebhardt noticed distinct spikes at the beginning of the year, before midterms, and before winter break. That led Gebhardt and her team to see an opportunity to bring even more issues out from behind closed doors.
Shortly after the Wellness Fair wraps, the Wellness Center will host a six-part series of drop-in workshops on topics ranging from body positivity and stress management to talking frankly with students about gaslighting and healthy relationships.
“It’s totally noncommittal for students—they don’t even need to say anything; they can just sit, learn, and listen,” said Gebhardt.
Information on the workshops will be sent out to the community in the coming weeks.
“It’s so important to emphasize education and academics along with overall well-being,” said Tricomi-Smith. “Students will carry that into their adult lives and careers.”
Learn more about the Wellness Fair. For more information on the upcoming drop-in workshops, email firstname.lastname@example.org.