PEER Project Offers One-on-One Help to Students in Need

Peer Mentors attend Mental Health First Aid Training

A new program at CSU Stanislaus offers support to students who may be feeling overwhelmed by pressures they face from school or life and need to know where to turn.

The PEER (Prevention—Education—Empowerment—Relief) Project is based on the idea that “friends are good medicine” and offers support from those who are most likely to understand and empathize—fellow students.

Peer mentors are CSU Stanislaus students who have been carefully selected and trained to help students who are in crisis or who may simply need someone to talk to. Funded by a grant from the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), the program focuses in three areas: increasing mental health awareness, reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and suicide prevention.

Tamra Partin is a master of social work student and a PEER Project mentor. “There are so many people who are hurting and lost on college campuses,” she said. “Many students are away from home for the first time and making the transition to adulthood. Others are working or taking care of families. The added stress of school can bring the healthiest people down.”

Program coordinator Jennifer Johnson believes there is a lot of need for the services offered by the PEER Project. Following one of the first classroom presentations on campus, a number of students waited outside with questions.

“They were asking about everything from eating disorders, to depression, to how to convince a friend to seek help,” Johnson said.

Project director Dan Berkow, who, with university staffer Nancy Lewis wrote the grant proposal, reports that the PEER project is well underway. The focus now is on public presentations so that as many people as possible can be made aware of the support services that are available.

Though the program is in its early stages, Tamra believes it has already made a difference. “I think we have helped many students through the trainings we have had on campus.” One example is Mental Health First Aid, a program that teaches how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Attendees learn a five-step action plan to assess the situation, select and implement appropriate interventions, and to help the individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional care.

What can someone do if he or she is worried that a friend may be struggling emotionally or even contemplating suicide? “It may seem counterintuitive,” said PEER Student Services Coordinator Megan rowe, “but research and the experts suggest that being blunt works best. Ask, ‘Have you contemplated suicide?’ and ‘Do you have a plan (for suicide)?’ If the answer is yes, then don’t waste time, call 9-1-1.”

Jen Johnson adds that friends should pay attention to changes in behavior, such as social withdrawal or reacting differently than one normally would to situations. “If you feel like a friend is hurting, just let them talk, and listen. She suggests getting the conversation started by saying, “You don’t seem to be yourself lately—can you tell me what’s going on with you?”

Classroom presentations will continue when spring semester begins. Johnson encourages professors to contact the PEER Project office to request a presentation to their classes. The PEER team is also planning a series of gatherings to show and discuss videos on a variety of subjects including college dating, eating disorders and more.

A free, daylong event is planned for March 13. It will involve a number of community organizations including PLACE (sexual orientation), Haven Women’s Center (domestic violence), and county drop-in clinic, Josie’s Place, as well as entertainment and refreshments.

To learn more about the PEER Project, drop by the office, located in the Student Services Building, visit the website or call (209) 664-6962.

Denise Nordell