Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 11, 2023

HopSecret unmasks hidden side of Hopkins

By EMILY HERMAN | December 5, 2013

Encouraging students to share their anonymous stories, the website HopSecret, run by the Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW), has spotlighted issues including depression, sexual assault and general hopelessness among the student body.

HopSecret, a spin-off of popular confessional website PostSecret, has been active since February 2012. The page posts the entries that it receives on a weekly basis.

Alanna Biblow, a health educator at CHEW and the site’s administrator, periodically promotes HopSecret through the University’s daily announcements and has updated the site in response to student suggestions, such as the recent addition of comments under each secret to foster online conversation.

“We knew that people felt like they were alone and that they had all these things inside of them,” Biblow said. “[HopSecret is] a way for them to funnel those things and let them know that they’re not feeling this way by themselves.”

The most recent series of posts on HopSecret, published the week of Dec. 2, touch on issues including eating disorders, feeling judged by peers and struggling academically.

HopSecret has over 500 student posts, many of which are from students who are depressed and struggling with school. Despite this, Anna Gilmour, co-director of the peer listening group A Place To Talk (APTT), said that the posts of HopSecret might not accurately represent how students are really feeling.

“[With] only one or two sentences, you don’t get to see the full picture of how they’re feeling,” Gilmour said. “When you talk with somebody, you can talk through their feelings with them and see the bigger picture.”

Gilmour and her fellow Co-Director Teona Munteanu both expressed concern that the anonymous nature of the website could enable negative criticism. They cited HopSecret’s star system, which allows visitors to rate submissions on a five-star scale from least to most relatable, as a possible source of additional negativity.

“I’m fearful that people might be writing off the things that people are posting because of the forum in which they’re posted in, and maybe take them less seriously than they should be taken,” Munteanu said.

Freshman Daniel Perez said that the page’s posts don’t accurately represent his experience at Homewood.

“In my social interactions, I don’t really see it,” Perez said. “A lot of [the posts] were about topics like rape and suicide. That’s not something I usually talk about among my friends.”

Freshman Taylor Veralli agreed with Perez, but also acknowledged that the school’s emphasis on academic achievement has a significant impact on student life.

“Even if you don’t feel it’s competitive for you [personally], it’s palpable,” Veralli said.

Biblow said that she doesn’t believe many students take full advantage of campus resources that help students alleviate stress and manage their heavy workloads.

HopSecret has a sub-page that lists resources where students can receive medical help and psychological counseling, including the contact information for APTT and the University’s Counseling Center. Biblow also posts reminders about accessing campus resources when she notices alarming trends among the submissions.

Although Biblow sometimes reaches out to students who submit secrets to encourage them to go to the Counseling Center — the site’s submission form allows students to provide some personal information that is not included in the public post — she has no legitimate way of knowing whether a student has taken her advice and sought help from campus resources.

“I struggle with that [because] it would be interesting to help them to know what [students] have said, but I also want to respect the students’ secrets,” Biblow said.

While Dr. Michael Mond, the counseling center director, could not specifically comment about HopSecret or any of the posts on the website, he said that, according to the Counseling Center’s records, about 38 percent of undergraduate students will visit the counseling center at least once over their four years at Hopkins.

Mond also said that while about 12 percent of students who visit the Counseling Center have diagnosable psychological disorders, most clients seek advice on adjusting to college life and dealing with everyday challenges.

“It’s important for students to develop good coping skills and get an adequate amount of sleep,” Mond said.

Mond also said that he was concerned that students who turn to websites like HopSecret for advice are not receiving sufficient support.

“I understand that it’s convenient for a lot of students to express their struggles online, but they would probably be better off going to the Counseling Center and having someone talk with them to find strategies to cope,” Mond said.

Although Biblow said that she doesn’t see HopSecret as a replacement for seeking professional help, she wants students to know that the website is always there as an outlet and a place where students can receive support tips from peers who have had similar experiences.

“If you can’t stop thinking about something and you can’t sleep, put it out to us and we’ll have it,” Biblow said. “Sometimes it helps to write something down and get it out of your head. This is one way you can do it.”

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