Student Voices – Healing through Relatable Lived Experiences: The Value of Peer Support
October 12 2021 | By Kaylee Menefee
College students are at a time in their lives where their experiences and struggles may feel isolating or largely unique to them. Additionally, this population has just gained an independence far beyond what they have always known and are navigating changes and new struggles without their safety net.
As a senior at Portland University and president of the Active Minds chapter at my university, I know these struggles far too well. As a first-year student, I was thrown in the deep end of anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges, I had no idea where to turn and I felt that admitting I was not okay was a sign of weakness. This feeling was magnified when it came to talking to my parents or even my professors about my struggles. At the time, it felt like there was no one who understood what I was going through and the only place that I was getting support was from my friends and classmates. I didn’t know it at the time, but peer-to-peer support was my main source for caring for my mental health. Looking around at my friends and other students, it seemed that this was also the primary form of support for everyone else. Through shared experiences, genuineness, and validation, college students are unknowingly providing some of the most effective forms of mental health care to each other.
This is not to say that peer support replaces clinical mental health care by any means, as professional help has long term benefits and can help in more serious situations. However, peer support is a step in the right direction, can be a gateway to finding professional support, provides validation for students’ challenges, and offers a kind of connection that is not easy to find. Peer support is unique in the way that it involves advice and support, but also friendship and camaraderie.
A Deeper Understanding
One of the greatest aspects of being supported by your peers in times of need is that you know they may have gone through something similar or at least understand your situation as a student themselves. By getting support from a peer who understands, it feels like there’s less stigma, less judgement, and room for vulnerability that can sometimes be difficult to emulate in professional situations.
As I stated earlier, university students are in a unique phase of life. While every person has their own unique journey, there’s typically at least one person who understands and can relate to your triumphs and struggles. This level of understanding, empathy, and validation you can receive from a peer is significant and can create spaces for peer support outside of natural friendships and conversations, allowing for a large number of students to feel support and less isolated.
Active Minds is a great example of facilitated peer support that is catered to students at colleges and universities and has been a great way for me to grow into my confidence as a leader and also as a person. The conversations about mental health that I have been able to have with my peers in Active Minds are some of the most vulnerable and supportive I have had. I look forward to meetings every week and was able to get through some of the hardest points in my life with the support from my peers in Active Minds. Peer support in this form was a release for me. Even when I am unable to “fix” the challenge I am experiencing, talking about it in an environment where I am never worried about judgement has always been one of my best coping mechanisms.
Support in the Age of Media
Now, in the age of technology, smart phones, and social media, there is an opportunity to expand peer support even more and create conversations of healing that were not possible before. While technology is not perfect, many people have seized the opportunity to use online platforms for healing and to benefit through the connections that can be created anywhere in the world.
Technology can be leveraged to expand access to peer support, allowing large numbers of people to be reached, and providing options for support in a stigma and judgment-free way.
For me, peer support has presented itself organically in many different ways. I’ve gone on long car rides to process my emotions with friends, been able to text friends whenever I am feeling down and turned to friends from social media when I feel misunderstood and alone. It is so difficult to reach out when I am feeling this way but knowing that there are so many people to turn to that understand makes it just a little bit easier.
Togetherall is an online peer-to-peer community that fosters an environment of care and support for college students and more. While it is possible to use peer support in a natural way through conversations with friends and classmates, Togetherall provides an accessible way to have these conversations anywhere, anytime, because mental health challenges don’t work on a schedule.
More than 2 million students are members of the Togetherall community, meaning there is always someone there when students need it most.
Find out more
Over 200 universities, colleges and education institutions use Togetherall. Contact us to learn more about Togetherall or sign up to get a closer look at the platform.