‘We can’t suffer in silence’: Milford life coach focuses on teen mental health

MILFORD — Every day Jennifer Close sees the stresses placed on students’ mental health, something that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, which forced so many young people into isolation.

Close, a certified life coach, has been a counselor at Joseph A. Foran High School for a decade and has watched as this mental health crisis among today’s teens has grown. To help these young people in need, she has now opened her own practice — Jennifer Close Coaching.

“I am creating more work for myself by opening my business, but it’s rewarding work,” Close said. “We can’t suffer in silence. I feel as though having a designated time to meet with students uninterrupted, where I can implement some of the strategies and techniques that I am excited to do, will be rewarding and different.”

Close said her new practice is a “teen coaching business, where I am working with teens’ mindfulness, positivity, confidence-boosting, academic support.”

Close is offering group sessions and individual sessions, which can be virtual or in-person. She said there are perks to the types of sessions, with group sessions allowing work on socialization, building peer relationships and understanding they are not alone.

“The private sessions are great to customize and personalize their action plan because it’s all about taking action,” she said. “You can talk about the problem, but what are you going to do to solve the problem?”

Her 10 years at Foran High has shown her the great need for mental health among teens, she said. Close said she started noticing students needed more mental health help, but it was different needs at different times.

“During the pandemic, when we were virtual, we saw a lot of emotional needs like academic motivation and loneliness, so there was a need there,” she said. “When we came back to school, there is a great need for academic support because students are transitioning back into full time, so there’s a lot of stress, anxiety, (being) overwhelmed with the amount of classes they need to juggle.”

She said in the past few years school counselors have never been more busy.

At Jennifer Close Coaching, Close works with students in grades seven through 12, and naturally, they are dealing with different types of stressors based on their age range.

“We see a lot of confidence and socialization concerns in the middle school and younger high school ages,” she said. “When we get to the high school ages, we are seeing a lot of stress and anxiety, as far as future planning and college and overall (feeling) overwhelmed.”

When she started advertising the new service, Close had many parents reaching out, saying since the pandemic, their child has been isolating, not motivated or negative.

“Since also working in the high school, I haven’t seen many students have outside counselors,” she said. “We obviously are providing support within the school setting, but many students are needing the extra support outside.”

The struggle Close sees the most is anxiety, with depression following closely behind.

“Students are feeling sad, lonely, not motivated and are not sure what to do,” she said. “I think it’s really important students have life skills to implement strategies to help them now and in the future.”

The life coaching aspect of counseling has added an extra layer of techniques and strategies she can implement with the students,” Close said.

“It could be a worksheet on gratitude, and we would potentially do it together, and for homework, I would have them work on a gratitude journal for the next week,” said Close. “It could be time-blocking activity to lay out their schedule and find times for their extracurricular and academic needs. So having an activity we do together that week is where the life coaching skills come in and implementing into the daily routine.”

Life coaching is also about the whole person, Close added. She focuses on emotional, mental, physical and sometimes spiritual wellness.

“For the teens, I feel like they may not want to go the spiritual area, so I’ve transitioned the spiritual into academic support,” she said. “They want to feel better and do better. But sometimes they don’t know how, so they need some skills and strategies to do that.”

Close said there are many life coaches for all sorts of people and industries, but she hasn’t heard of many teen life coaches.

“I think it is so important because they are at the stage of their life where they are looking at their future and trying to plan their future, and I think any extra support in guiding them there can reduce a lot of stress they are experiencing,” she said.

And with school coming to an end, Close said she thinks summer is a great time to implement extra coaching for teens.

“A lot of students are seeing counselors in the high schools, and they won’t be able to, or they don’t have one for the summer,” she said. “Getting some coaching over the summer would be really beneficial to keep up the positivity and keep the support going.”