Alyssa Parks first made an appointment at the Counseling Center at Marshall University, thanks to her roommate. was talking
So when Parks learned at a conference for student government leaders about a program that would teach young people to provide mental health support to their peers, she said it wasn’t just for Marshalls, but colleges across West Virginia. I figured it would work.
The Bandana Project started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This program teaches students how to help a friend in need until they have the opportunity to seek professional guidance. The initiative also aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health care by encouraging students to wear bright symbols of support in public.
“Once you’re trained, you get a green bandana and put it on your book bag or purse to show that you’re safe with those seeking help if you’re in a mental health crisis.” Parks explains.. “There’s a bias on that topic, and I think it’s getting better, but if you’ve never been to a counseling center, it can be nerve-wracking.”
Parkes was in a strong position to help popularize the green bandana among his classmates. She served as Marshall’s student council president in 2021 and she in 2022, and West also chaired Virginia’s Student Advisory Board.
At one council meeting, Parks pitched the idea of offering mental health peer support training statewide. Other student representatives agreed with this, noting that students had to wait for counseling appointments at the university.The student council worked with state officials to create the Green Bandana His initiative and West his has rolled out at higher education institutions throughout Virginia.
“Four weeks is too long and too late to wait to see a therapist when you’re in a mental health crisis,” says Parkes. It was a way to help students talk to someone in the meantime.”
This kind of peer support effort is one way college students and their institutions are responding to the mental health crisis that experts say is happening among adolescents.
These programs may help students with “potential problems,” according to a Mary Christie Institute report published in 2022.
However, studies show that such programs also come with risks, and further research is needed to assess how well peer support efforts are working in practice and to determine best practices for implementing them. must be carried out.
students fill the gap
Research shows rates of reported depression and anxiety among young people are soaring, and colleges are struggling to find ways to respond. According to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors annual survey, in 2019, more than 87% of counseling center directors reported that more students would seek out their services.
The COVID-19 health crisis has exacerbated the strain on both young people and the campus systems that support them. According to the National College Health Assessment of his more than 33,000 students at 41 institutions of higher learning, conducted by the American College Health Association in the fall of 2021, nearly three-quarters of college students had moderate to severe illness during the pandemic. He said he experienced emotional distress. .
“Having a job, trying to be on time for class, and in the midst of a pandemic, especially when you’re in quarantine, has had a huge impact on everyone’s morale,” Parks says. You have to rest, which creates stressors.You can’t afford groceries, housing, and you’re worried about exams coming up.Maybe you’re really stressed and you want to de-stress. I like to socialize but I can’t do that during the pandemic. All of this combined really hinders my mental health.”
What responsibility should universities have in providing access to mental health care? Leaders of higher education institutions are still trying to figure it out. But Parks believes there is a direct relationship between a young person’s good mood and academic performance.
“I’ve been talking to different students and I’ve noticed that if they don’t put their mental health first, they have a really hard time doing well in school and being the best they can be,” she said. Parkes says. “I’ve noticed a difference. If students can take care of their mental health first, they can be successful in other areas of their lives.”
So while universities and their medical teams are responding to the growing need for mental health services on campus, students are running phone hotlines and text messaging services, offering coaching, and hosting campus events. By doing so, we strive to support our peers. His 2021 survey by the Born This Way Foundation and the Mary Christie Institute found that 20% of his 2,000 students who responded had used peer counseling, and 62% of students would try peer counseling. It turned out that he was not interested in
Peer support programs vary greatly in the type of intervention they offer. Some ask students to provide preventive education, others listen to their classmates, and others see students acting as coaches and counselors.
The level of training required for students participating in these programs also varies. For example, training offered at Marshall University through the Green Bandana Initiative takes several hours to complete, while training at the more intensive Peer He Counseling Program offered at the University of Albany can be a one-semester course. It is done.
Training discrepancies are one cause of concern noted in the 2022 Mary Christie Institute report.
“Clinicians and students we spoke to pointed to adequate training for peer supporters as the most important component of risk mitigation, knowing service limitations and understanding emergency protocols is a top priority. “This is clearly an area that could be strengthened, starting with standardizing levels of training generally and by program type,” the authors of the report wrote.
Also, it’s not always clear how well peer support programs work. An article published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2022 reviewed several studies of interventions aimed at improving the mental health of college students and found peer support to be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety. found to provide. In contrast, another academic article reviewing multiple studies determined that there was not enough evidence to suggest that peer support improves the mental health of college students.
Still, a report from the Mary Christie Institute found that with the right practices, resources, and assessment, “peer support programs, like physical health, can prevent health problems from worsening if left unaddressed.” ”I claim. These programs appear to be particularly promising in helping students from racial minority groups feel understood and validated while “enhancing a sense of belonging on campus.”
wearing a bandana
After deciding to adopt the Green Bandana Program, West Virginia Student Leaders worked with the Director of Behavioral Health Programs at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Board to set up training opportunities for college students statewide Did. The committee paid for the training and made it freely available.
Student volunteers at each institution disseminate information to classmates through social media and at tables set up on campus. At Marshall University, a Greek welfare organization joined the effort and encouraged members to sign up, Parks said.
From late February to mid-June 2022, approximately 30 training sessions were held at colleges and universities across the state, with ample capacity for hundreds of students. When Parks underwent training, she says she learned how to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis, such as anxiety and suicide risk, and how to approach friends with sensitivity.
One particular training video particularly resonated with her. It depicts her two friends going out to a restaurant. Her first friend is overwhelmed by a panic attack and disappears, while the second texts her, “Are you okay?” The two friends reunite and take a deep breath together to complete the counting exercise. A second friend then asks, “Have you ever been to counseling?” I am happy to take you there. ”
The exchange reminded Parks of how his roommates set an example for Parks to follow when it comes to his own mental health.
“That first counseling session can be uncomfortable if you’ve never done it before,” says Parks. “I had to do with the aspect of getting friends to notice and be able to have that experience with you.”
Parks ties a green bandana to the bottom of his backpack. No one has asked for her support yet, but she feels her training so far has prepared her for that possibility.
“I think it made me feel more confident about how to handle the situation if my friend needed to talk to someone,” she says.