Is it appropriate for student mentors to deal with mental health issues?
Posted Sep 21, 2015
By Beatrice Bugane
It was the summer of 2014: only a few months left until college began. Scrolling through posts left on my university’s Facebook page, I scoured the discussions for pointers on making friends.
"While you move in, leave your door propped open so that others can stop by. It’s a great way to meet new people. It also shows your fellow hall mates how open you are!"
How I’d navigate this new, intimidating social scene became my primary concern. I’d have to form relationships miles away from all of the people I’d known for years. Start over again.
Finding aspects of common ground between other students and myself wasn’t easy. Most were older than me by at least a year. Where parents and teachers had been primary leaders for me in the past, now I had to turn to people only roughly my age but who seemed light years wiser.
Now, as a sophomore, I’m on the other side of this relationship. After the homesickness of my first year, I feel a responsibility to give back to the programs that provided me with academic, social, and emotional support.
Training sessions as a peer mentor have challenged me to think of effective ways to support others. Much of the training emphasizes mental health.
Anxiety and depression keep students from confiding in others. The social stigma attached to seeking psychological support has not disappeared entirely. The National Alliance on Mental Illness finds that 40% of students experiencing such distress do not seek help. In mentorship training, role playing exercises encourage conversations that simulate the free association techniques therapists employ in private sessions.
Is it appropriate for student mentors to deal with mental health issues presented to them by other students? On the one hand, it seems extremely important—the peer relationship in itself is one that encourages comfort through shared experiences.
It seems equally important, however, that students realize that seeking help from professional sources is not necessarily a sign of illness. Regardless of what situations mental health stressors derive from, anybody can benefit from supportive conversation.
Beatrice Bugane is a sophomore at Brown University.
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