With the pandemic exacerbating mental health struggles among college students nationwide, State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor Jim Malatras has announced a new SUNY Student Mental Health Peer Advocates Training Program, designed to enable students to reach out to their peers showing signs of depression or distress, and deliver valuable mental health resources, including referrals to dedicated crisis and counseling centers for students in need.
It is the second initiative developed and advocated for by members of the Student Voices Action Committee, which was established last fall to advise SUNY leadership on emerging critical issues and challenges facing students, and sets in motion SUNY’s first agreement with Active Minds to train peer advocates on each SUNY campus to combat mental health issues.
SUNY’s Peer Advocates Initiative is part of a larger program to assist students amid growing concerns nationwide on mental health struggles. Active Minds reports 39 percent of students in college experience a significant mental health issues, and CDC survey results show the rates of college-age adults (ages 18-24) contemplating suicide has also increased. In 2018, one in 10 college-age adults nationally contemplated suicide, and during the first wave of the pandemic, that grew to one in four college-age adults nationally this past June.
SUNY will begin training students starting with members of the Student Voices Action Committee, Student Assembly, campus resident assistants, student veterans, students with disabilities, Educational Opportunity Program students, and those employed at SUNY’s childcare centers for students—about 500 students, who will be together virtually for the training on April 10, 2021. The Student Mental Health Peer Advocates Training Program will be expanded to more students at a later date.
SUNY will use Active Minds VAR: Validate, Appreciate® tool, one of many specifically for colleges, to train students to assist in non-crisis situations, helping them know the steps to opening up a fuller conversation with someone who is showing signs that they may need additional support.
“Feelings of isolation, loss, and persistent anxiety throughout the pandemic have exacerbated mental health and wellness issues among college students. Studies have shown that they are more likely to tell a friend they are struggling before anyone else. And if students are going to tell their friends first, we have to make sure we have as many students as possible trained to give support,” said Chancellor Malatras. “That is at the heart of our new program—which will train and empower students to spot classmates who are struggling; approach them in a comforting, private, and nonintrusive manner; discuss these feelings with care and sensitivity; and if needed point them toward further mental health services available on our SUNY campuses. I want to commend members of the SUNY Student Voices Action Committee, who have been strong proponents of launching SUNY’s Peer Advocates Initiative. I am especially proud to lead a university system comprised of so many students who are sensitive to mental health issues, cognizant of their complexity and impact, and willing to step in and play a leading role in the solution.”
To coincide with the launch of the Student Mental Health Peer Advocates Training Program, SUNY also released a new video as a part of Chancellor Malatras’ #ReachOutSUNY public awareness campaign designed to shatter the stigma associated with mental health struggles and asking for help, while educating students about available services.