Build­ing an em­pa­thetic peer com­mu­nity on cam­pus

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - LET’STALKABOUT CHILD - Jin­dal In­sti­tute of Be­hav­ioral Sci­ence

Across our coun­try, our col­lege stu­dents are in­creas­ingly strug­gling with stress, anxiety, ad­dic­tion, de­pres­sion and re­la­tional dif­fi­cul­ties. It’s a phe­nom­e­non more wide­spread than we re­alise! With the rise of men­tal health is­sues faced by stu­dents, su­per­vised peer men­tor­ing or peer ed­u­ca­tor pro­grams on cam­puses are be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant need.

Peer men­tor­ing refers to peerled or peer-as­sisted pro­grams, where peers serve as agents of change in at­ti­tudes, norms, and be­haviours. Peer men­tors are se­lected, trained, sen­si­tized and su­per­vised by pro­fes­sional men­tal health ex­perts in plan­ning, op­er­at­ing and im­ple­ment­ing pro­grams. Peer men­tor­ing pro­grams on cam­puses can in­crease reach out and pro­mote aware­ness about men­tal health is­sues.

WHY DOES IT WORK?

It’s eas­ier for us to reach out to our peers than to the sig­nif­i­cant “know it all” older adults in our life. Each of us has at some point in our lives, shared our pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences with our peers with­out hes­i­ta­tion or fear of con­dem­na­tion.

We have poured our hearts out, shared sto­ries of love, ac­com­plish­ments, hap­pi­ness, and se­cret de­sires.

We have dis­closed our rea­sons and ex­pe­ri­ences of fear, de­spair, worry, des­per­a­tion, and dis­ap­point­ments.

We have also of­fered words of wis­dom and in turn, have re­ceived ad­vice from our peers who have gone through sim­i­lar life ex­pe­ri­ences.

Peers are able to break down bar­ri­ers, which well-in­ten­tioned, sig­nif­i­cant adults in our lives at times fail to. Peer-men­tor­ing pro­grams proac­tively cre­ate spa­ces for open dis­cus­sions and fa­cil­i­tate long term en­gage­ments in well-be­ing among peers. In young adults, peer men­tor­ing nur­tures a sense of em­pa­thy for oth­ers, re­spect for free­dom with re­spon­si­bil­ity, and in­forms young adults about tol­er­ance to­wards dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives.

WHY IS IT USE­FUL?

Peer men­tor­ing pro­grams on cam­puses ben­e­fit both, the mentee and the peer men­tor. For the mentee, the ben­e­fits of­ten show up as a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in the aca­demic per­for­mance. It also helps in ac­tively ad­dress­ing so­cio-emo­tional is­sues of stu­dents. It can help fresh­men stu­dents’ in tran­si­tion and nav­i­ga­tion of so­cial and per­sonal diffi- cul­ties. Such pro­grams of­ten help re­duce sub­stance abuse on cam­pus.

Aware­ness is cre­ated about im­por­tant is­sues such as healthy lifestyle and cop­ing with stress. They are ben­e­fi­cial in pro­mot­ing sui­cide pre­ven­tion, re­mov­ing the stigma about seek­ing pro­fes­sional help for de­pres­sion, ad­dic­tion (cig­a­rettes, al­co­hol, and drugs), and re­la­tion­ship dif­fi­cul­ties.

For the peer men­tors, there is a growth in mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ences, en­joy­ment, and sat­is­fac­tion from help­ing oth­ers. It helps in de­vel­op­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion and lead­er­ship skills. Peer men­tors be­come knowl­edge­able about the re­sources of the univer­sity. En­gag­ing in such men­tor­ing ac­tiv­i­ties im­proves self­aware­ness through self-learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. Men­tors also de­velop a sense of pride, em­pa­thy, and con­fi­dence.

In other coun­tries, such pro­grams have proven use­ful, such as Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia’s (United States) Well­ness Peer Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram tar­geted to­wards bring­ing aware­ness about well­ness and men­tal health, has helped de­crease stigma and im­prove un­der­stand­ing about the Coun­selling and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Ser­vices pro­vided on cam­pus.

In In­dia, very few col­lege cam­puses have peer men­tor­ing pro­grams for pro­mot­ing men­tal health and well-be­ing. Erik Erik­son, a fa­mous de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist once said “Life doesn’t make any sense with­out in­ter­de­pen­dence. We need each other and the sooner we learn that, the bet­ter for all of us”.

We need more col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to ac­knowl­edge the need for, and proac­tively pro­vide these su­per­vised peer men­tor­ing pro­grams.

They are needed to pro­vide sup­port, re­move ig­no­rance about men­tal health needs on col­lege cam­puses, and pro­mote ac­tive and long-term en­gage­ment. We will need to help each other to lessen stress, im­prove cop­ing skills and form car­ing re­la­tion­ships.

In­ter­con­nec­tions and in­ter­in­flu­ences are an in­evitable part of our de­vel­op­ment.

There­fore, mo­bi­liz­ing re­sources such as peer groups in main­tain­ing and sus­tain­ing men­tal health on cam­puses will need to be a cru­cial bedrock in en­abling the de­vel­op­ment of our coun­try’s youth.

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