College students expressed their desire for peer mental health counseling on campus, which, with the right training for peer counselors, could help lighten the load for campus mental health services.
Peer Counseling in College Mental Health, a survey from the Born This Way Foundation and the Mary Christie Institute, offers the perspectives of more than 2,000 U.S. college students regarding their attitudes toward and participation in peer mental health counseling.
The report’s authors and contributors define peer mental health counseling as “receiving support for your mental health from a trained peer, not a friend.”
Notably, the survey shows that use of peer counseling is higher among Black, Transgender, and first-generation college students. Interest in peer counseling programs has increased overall since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
College-age students have many positive developments in their lives, but they also undergo challenging transitions and change, the report notes.
“College student mental health has become particularly concerning, with students reporting year-over-year increases in anxiety and depression, compounded by the ‘triple pandemic’ of COVID-19, the deepening of vast social inequities, and widespread economic insecurity,” according to the report.
Key findings include:
1. Two-thirds (67 percent) of college students say they have faced mental or emotional issues over the past 12 months.
2. College students need peer counseling, and have demonstrated clear interest in having it available on campus. One in five college students already use peer counseling (20 percent); of the 80 percent who have not used it, 62 percent say they would be interested in doing so. The most common reasons for seeking peer counseling are stress, anxiety, depression, social life issues, and loneliness.
3. Use of peer counseling is higher among Black students (39 percent), Transgender students (39 percent), and first-generation students (29 percent), who are particularly likely to say it is “very important” to find a peer counselor with similar identities.
4. Students are very satisfied with peer counseling. Nearly 60 percent of students who have used the service characterize it has helpful, and 82 percent of students who have peer counseling at their school say it is “able to serve students of various backgrounds and identities.”
5. Students are more likely to turn to a peer if they’re facing a serious mental health issue–36 percent indicated they’d do so before turning to others, such as a parent or a member of campus staff. But a majority of surveyed students say they believe their problems can become a burden to their friends.
6. Students who provide peer mental health counseling say that helping others is their main motivation (45 percent).
7. Peer counselors participating in the survey report a higher sense of well-being.
8. Peer counseling training is common (93 percent) but is not universal. Sixteen percent of peer mental health counselors say they are not aware of an emergency protocol if they are worried for a student’s safety.
“Curiosity about the benefits and risks associated with peer counseling for college students is particularly high as schools grapple with a campus mental health crisis marked by high demand and a lack of sufficient resources. This dynamic, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, has administrators and practitioners recognizing the need to find alternative sources of support for their students, but they do so with caution and a desire for more information on which to create or sanction programs that work for students and institutions alike,” according to the report.
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