According to numerous surveys, university students are much more likely to confide in and seek out help from peers well before considering going to a counseling center for mental health concerns.
While support from friends can be beneficial, it may not provide sufficient or appropriate assistance as friends are not likely to be trained in active listening, aware of available resources, or skilled in recognizing significant risk factors.
Peer Supporter Role:
1. Provides supportive listening, empathy, and validation of others’ experiences
2. Remains mindful of what details of personal experience may or may not be helpful to share
3. Shares what has been helpful for them rather than giving advice or telling others what to do
4. Creates a safe and comfortable environment for the student
5. Maintains appropriate boundaries (e.g., does not serve as a Peer Supporter for friends or develop relationships with students for whom they have served as a Peer Mentor)
6. Leads by example, modeling respect, responsibility, emotional control, and emotional intelligence
7. With other Peer Supporters, develops and participates in positive activities for the campus (e.g., Discussion Forums; Promotion of Wellness topics; Volunteer / Service activities; Random Acts of Kindness).
Peer Supporter Responsibilities:
- Participates in new student orientation activities
- Availability for at least 2 shifts of 1 hour per week or 1 shift of 2 hours per week during school year
- Participation as student facilitator, as available, in Wellness Group meetings
- Attendance at monthly Peer Support training and discussion meetings
- Following all guidelines for Peer Support
- Contact with Administration/Faculty Supervisor when questions arise
- Monthly meetings of all peer supporters with administrator/faculty to address specific topics (e.g., listening skills, boundary threats, when to refer) and group discussions
- Every other week group meeting of Peer Supporters for group discussions and support
Peer Supporter Expectations:
- Respectful and constructive in interactions with others, including awareness of diversity
- Empowering of other students
- Check-ins with fellow Peer Supporters and/or Supervisors for “debriefings” to discuss questions, concerns, and insights
- Have resource list and resource contact information available whenever working with students
- Clear understanding of who to contact in an emergency
- Targeted Population Needs/Requests
- Policies are clearly set out for both Participants (Peer Supporters) and Students served to set the role of Participants, services offered, boundaries, and confidentiality
- Structured plan of what to do given specific circumstances, including list of who to contact and/or to refer student to if indicated/necessary
- Specific application and screening process with identified criteria to become and remain a Peer Supporter (e.g., recommendations, communication skills, leadership ability, character, completion of Mental Health First Aid training for adults and SAVES training from the Veterans Administration
- Ongoing, regular, and structured training throughout time served as a Peer Supporter
Peer Supporter Qualifications:
- Junior or Senior with a minimum of a 2.5 GPA
- In good standing with the university, financially, academically, and through the student code of conduct
- Completed application
- Recommendation letter from university staff or faculty
- Completion of Mental Health First Aid training for adults when available
- Completion of SAVES training when available
- During the academic year, actively participates in ongoing education and training in such areas as: emotional intelligence, listening skills, bystander intervention, effective communication styles, risk assessment, and referral.
- Serves as a mentor and supporter, not as an advisor or counselor.
Students can take part in the national Active Minds movement to receive training and technical assistance from professional staff and public health experts through programs such as Active Minds Speakers, Active Minds Chapters, Send Silence Packing, Transform Your Campus, and other curated national campaigns. Additionally, consider engaging mental health professionals on campus and in your community as topic experts and on-campus support.
Active Minds’ Chapter Network: Join, start, or support an Active Minds chapter: www.activeminds.org/chapters
Active Minds’ Frameworks for Student Mobilization: Learn more about Active Minds’ recommendations for supporting a peer-to-peer approach on campuses: www.activeminds.org/frameworks
Active Minds’ Healthy Campus Award: Learn about how award-winning institutions are supporting a peer-to-peer approach to improve mental health outcomes: www.activeminds.org/award
Active Minds’ Transform Your Campus: This program includes free guides and technical assistance to help students create policy change on their campuses: www.activeminds.org/transform
Additional Programs: Consider bringing Active Minds’ Send Silence Packing exhibit or an Active Minds speaker to your campus to promote suicide prevention and mental health promotion: www.activeminds.org/programs
The Student Support Network at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute is a 6- week training program that students can select to take that helps them to be better prepared to support students on campus. Each session lasts 50-minutes and is led by the counseling center staff (https://www.wpi.edu/studentexperience/getting-involved/leadership/peerassistance).