Last Friday (Jan. 27), guest chapel speaker Anthony Bradley gave Wheaton students some startling facts about themselves, and about college students nationwide. Citing a litany of statistics, Bradley made the case that today’s college students are “the most anxious and stressed out college cohort in American history.” The counseling center’s new “Let’s Talk” program is an effort to serve the large emotional health need that exists, as at many other schools, on Wheaton’s campus.

“[Let’s Talk] is brief, free, confidential, and anonymous consultation geared at helping current undergraduate and graduate students who might be reluctant to seek help via the Counseling Center,” said Allison Ash, Dean of Student Care. “We believe that these sessions will be accessible to students who may otherwise not feel comfortable to make a counseling center appointment.”

Bradley’s chapel talk received a standing ovation from students, perhaps not surprisingly. It’s no secret that the average Wheaton student deals with a large amount of stress — EVP of student care Jack McHenney started with “academic pressure, a culture of achievement, student debt, and vocational confusion,” to name just a few sources — as well as pressure to keep the visibility of this stress to a minimum. “Let’s Talk” offers an outlet for these pressures in the form of free, walk-in counseling every Tuesday morning.

“We hope to be able to reach a larger number of students who may not need counseling, but could benefit from very brief consultation with a professional,” Ash said. “‘Let’s Talk’ is designed to serve as a consultation for a student who may want more information about the counseling center or who may want to talk to a counselor in a more casual setting.”

The idea for “Let’s Talk” came from Dr. Toussaint Whetstone, the director of the Counseling Center, and is held every Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in room 55 of Beamer Center. No appointment is necessary, no paperwork is required and consultations are open to all Wheaton students, graduate or undergraduate. Student Care has never offered services like this before; Whetstone got the idea from his own experience as a doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame.

“[Notre Dame] found that many students who weren’t comfortable coming to the counseling center for various reasons felt comfortable coming in for a consultation with a mental health professional outside the counseling center,” said Whetstone, who worked as a counselor for one year at Notre Dame’s version of “Let’s Talk.” “The whole time I was thinking about Wheaton College, that it would be great to institute something on campus like this.”

“Let’s Talk” fell lower on the priority list when Whetstone returned to Wheaton as the director of the counseling center in 2014. At that time, the counseling center had a 70-person waitlist to be seen by one of the mental health professionals. That waitlist has been eliminated completely in the past two and a half years, allowing Whetstone and the rest of the counseling staff to now shift their focus to new programs like “Let’s Talk.”

Ash and Whetstone both made it clear that “Let’s Talk” is not itself counseling; Whetstone compared it instead to “talking to a friend about something that you’re dealing with and receiving some form of advice.”

The program aims to make support even more accessible to students, no matter what they may be struggling with.

“I think that the Let’s Talk program [will] be beneficial for the Wheaton community,” said Emily Tsen, a junior who participates in the counseling center’s Lighthouse support group for students dealing issues related to mental health. “It’s a great, free, easy opportunity and therapy can be beneficial anyone, whether they know they have a mental illness diagnosis or not.”

McHenney, who is serving in the Student Care position for student government during the 2016-17 school year, believes that “Let’s Talk” can serve as a way for the counseling center to “effectively triage” the needs of the highly stressed student body that Bradley painted a picture of during Friday’s chapel.

“I don’t think Wheaton’s emotional health is too different from any other college, but I do think we could improve in the way we talk about emotional health,” McHenney said. “Anthony Bradley was spot-on in many ways. I wish more students [and] speakers felt able to speak with the same candor about emotional health that he did.”

Free counseling is always available to students by appointment. Located with Student Health Services in North Harrison Hall, the counseling center has four licensed counselors available to provide confidential treatment for all students who desire it. Student Care hopes that “Let’s Talk” might act as a bridge between North Harrison Hall and the Wheaton student body.

“‘Let’s Talk’ is, of course, a service for all students,” Ash said. “[It] is not meant to replace counseling, but it may provide, for some, a less intimidating first step to getting the help they desire.”