“Empathy” is a key word for the students of WESupport, who are devoted to offering peer guidance for students navigating mental health issues. In addition to holding daily office hours, WESupport is now extending its reach into a new support group, which will meet weekly starting next Wednesday.
The goal of this discussion group is to provide a safe environment for students to talk confidentially about any mental health-related struggles or challenges they are facing, including depression, anxiety, or academic stress.
Although the group is affiliated with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), it is entirely student-run. The group’s three student facilitators have trained with CAPS to actively listen and guide discussion, but they will be participating in these conversations along with group members.
Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Jennifer D’Andrea explained the value of providing this group setting composed solely of students.
“There are many students at Wes who are really struggling yet feel hesitant to talk with a licensed therapist,” D’Andrea wrote in an email to The Argus. “This support group is a great opportunity for them to reach out, talk about their difficulties, hear about what their peers are dealing with, and perhaps most importantly to realize they are not alone.”
D’Andrea noted that in addition to the semester of training that the facilitators received to become peer mental health advocates, these students are trained specifically to guide group discussions.
“I have provided the students with an all-day training in active listening, as well as an additional half-day training in support group facilitation,” she wrote. “I will continue to meet with the leaders to consult and supervise their work, but the groups are entirely student-run.”
The group’s facilitators—a senior, a junior, and a freshman—asked not to be identified by name in this article because they don’t want any associations people might have with them to deter them from attending the discussions.
“We will meet with [D’Andrea] twice a month so that we can make sure that we’re doing our best job as peer supervisors, and we will also just speak with her in case there’s any sort of problems that arise,” the senior facilitator said. “Because…we’ve been trained, but this is something relatively new to campus. So it’s good to check in with somebody who’s got incredible amounts of training and is really invested in this succeeding.”
The faciliators also emphasized that everything discussed during these meetings is confidential.
“The number-one thing about our job within the scope of this group is that we’re trained to facilitate a really healthy and safe environment,” the senior facilitator said. “So our job, first and foremost, is to share and be a part of that group, but also to make sure that everyone else feels really safe and secure.”
The group has already generated some interest through an email that went to all students, but the facilitators still encourage anyone who is interested in attending to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This is an anonymous email that we get BCC’ed on, so we get to see who’s going to be coming to the meeting, and we’re collecting responses now,” the senior facilitator said.
The first meeting of this support group will take place next Wednesday, April 2 at 6:15 p.m. in the Solarium of the Davison Health Center. After that, there will be weekly meetings for the rest of the semester.
The purpose of the first meeting will be to establish what exactly people want to get out of the group.
“It’s definitely not super structured,” the freshman facilitator said. “We’re just going to go with it and see what people are most comfortable with.”
The third facilitator, a junior, added that these discussions themselves will be entirely open-ended.
“I think another important part of the structure of the meetings is that it isn’t necessarily one specific mental health issue,” she said. “That was something that we talked about: making a group that was only focused on depression or only on anxiety would be somewhat limiting, so it is more just about general mental health issues that people are having. So it is more fluid in that way, too.”