This article uses only students’ first names to maintain confidentiality due to the nature of the WESupport group.
WESupport, a student-run peer mental health support group, expanded this semester to include six groups catering to different needs. As of this semester, WESupport’s student leaders also hold office hours.
“Instead of just having one general support group, we are now going to offer some more specific groups,” said JJ, one student leader of the group.
Each support group is led by three student co-facilitators and composed of about 10 students in total. In these groups, students can confidentially share personal thoughts or concerns on topics of interest. Among these specialized groups are one for international students, a grief support group, a relationships and relationship abuse support group, Emotions Anonymous (a 12-step program for recovery from mental and emotional illness), and General Peer Support.
The larger selection of support groups is a result of a larger number of students going through the six-week facilitator training held every semester. Run by Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Dr. Jennifer D’Andrea, the training sessions cover issues ranging from depression to eating disorders and suicide prevention. Once they have completed the training, these Peer Mental Health Advocates are qualified to hold office hours or lead support groups.
“It’s great to have more students running WESupport because we’re able to offer more,” said Alice, another student facilitator. “Being a larger group means more ideas on what students need on campus and how we can help, plus the means to do it since we have more members to help.”
Elisabeth, a co-facilitator for the support group for international students, discussed the significance of such a group.
“International students face various difficulties when arriving to the U.S. that other students do not,” Elisabeth said. “They have to face not only the difficulties of leaving home, making new friends, and new academic responsibilities, but they also have to face learning the norms and values of a new culture and appropriate ways to behave in social spaces. This might make adapting to college life even more difficult than for a regular college student from the U.S. Through this support group, we aim to address all the issues relevant to culture shock that these students might be facing.”
Another student co-facilitator for this group, Ye Ji, spoke about the group’s goal.
“It is our hope that international students can at least know that there are others who are being challenged with the same issues, and therefore can empathize with them,” Ye Ji said. “The ultimate goal of the support group is not only to get help but also to give help simultaneously.”
During WESupport’s new office hours, students can receive one-on-one support in the office located in the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) intern room on the second floor of Davison Health Center. These office hours are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m. Students can make appointments through the WESupport website, but drop-ins are also welcome.
The office hours are meant to provide support for students who wish to speak confidentially about their concerns with a peer equipped to meet their needs. Unlike support groups, students are not limited to a certain theme but are free to talk about anything they wish, or just enjoy a cup of coffee in a calm space.
Alice explained the ways in which WESupport office hours serve the student body.
“I think of office hours as a place students can go and talk to a peer without worrying about confidentiality,” Alice said. “Since we’re not trained professionals, we can’t offer therapy, but we’re here to listen to any worries and problems that students can’t or don’t want to talk about with their friends or families. I think it’s nice to be able to talk face-to-face to someone who is not deeply involved in the things you’re worried or stressed about, who you know won’t spread your story around nor judge you.”
As a group affiliated with CAPS, though with no direct connection in terms of service, WESupport hopes to provide a different kind of experience to students than that which they might have in a formal therapy session.
“I think there are a lot of students who struggle with things and who needs support, but they’re not ready to take the step to go to CAPS and see a therapist,” D’Andrea said. “Maybe they can actually benefit from therapy, but they’re just not ready to take that step, or maybe they don’t actually need therapy; they just need some support. I think that’s where WESupport students can be really helpful, because I think those students can really benefit from a student-run support group. It can also be a nice transition into seeing a therapist later on, if that’s something they want, or could provide just the right amount of support they need and that might be all the support they ever need.”
One of the leaders of WESupport echoed D’Andrea’s sentiments and further explained the group’s unique role on campus.
“WESupport isn’t the same as therapy or counseling; we aren’t therapists,” this leader said. “We are students who recognize that Wesleyan, and life in general, can be overwhelming and sometimes we really need peer support. We can help students figure out resources on campus and we can listen to and support students as they navigate through the complexities of Wesleyan.”