The University’s chapter of Active Minds introduced the new WeSupport program at their first meeting this past Sunday night, Sept. 23. WeSupport, a peer health-advising program, will launch in conjunction with the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and will assist in Active Minds’ central mission to raise awareness about mental illnesses on college campuses.
WeSupport is a six-session training program designed to teach students the skills necessary to help other students navigate the University’s mental health services network. According to current Active Minds leader Jenn Pollan ’13, WeSupport counselors who receive training will serve as empathetic listeners and support systems for students in crisis.
Pollan also said that WeSupport counselors will offer students an alternative to contacting the 8-to-8 Student Listening Service or to seeing a therapist through CAPS. She sees the new program as essential for students seeking immediate attention.
“Finding a therapist at all is very stressful and very difficult, especially if you’re in a crisis,” Pollan said. “Having students that can be there, especially if therapists aren’t available, is something that I want to see happening on campus. To be able to call someone and say ‘Let’s get coffee and chat’—it’s not therapy; it’s a student who’s compassionate.”
Active Minds at Wesleyan is part of a non-profit organization with chapters at 361 college campuses nationwide. The central goal of Active Minds, Inc. is to change the conversation about mental illness on college campuses via awareness, education, and advocacy programs.
At the meeting, students reviewed the Wesleyan chapter of Active Minds’ past campus projects: flyering, community outreach in the Middletown area, special events for students during finals week, and last year’s “Send Silence Packing,” a traveling exhibit that marks International Suicide Day.
Training sessions for WeSupport will be divided into two groups of approximately 20 students each. Groups will meet on either Tuesdays or Fridays for one-hour sessions, which will involve role-playing and discussion techniques to help reduce the stigma about mental illness at the University.
“The program means building a network of people knowing how to deal with someone who is in distress or is a friend in crisis,” Pollan said. “It’s about making Wesleyan a place where we’re talking about these issues and proactively trying to establish a support system.”
Pollan added that WeSupport will provide the necessary counsel to students on campus with mental illnesses. As she explained at the meeting, there are approximately 150 students currently on medical leave from the University for either physical or mental health reasons.
Several students present had recently returned from medical leave for mental illness and expressed their surprise that other students were enduring similar mental illnesses. Some claimed that taking a leave of absence was the hardest thing that they had ever done. They said their decisions to leave campus had shocked their friends, and some had never talked about mental illness before seeking counsel with members of Active Minds. Through WeSupport, counselors will also help students navigate the process of taking a medical leave of absence.
Pollan announced at the meeting that she will be stepping down as group leader and is seeking a group of students to keep the organization active on campus. According to Pollan, this change in leadership will not affect WeSupport, as it is run in conjunction with CAPS.
Director of CAPS Dr. Jennifer D’Andrea will run the training sessions for WeSupport. There is currently a waiting list for this semester’s WeSupport training program. Students interested in joining the waiting list or signing up for next semester’s program should contact D’Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.