Peer Responders program trains mental health help

Category:  News
Wednesday, February 19th, 2020 at 9:15 PM

The Ghering Health and Wellness Center announced in an email sent out to students Jan. 27 that it is continuing the Peer Responders Program which debuted in the Fall of 2019.

“This program is designed to prepare students to help others in need and to be able to handle any concerning situations in a professional and prepared manner. For example, a student can learn how to assist friends in times of crises, a student can gain knowledge about specific concerns that young adults face, and [they can] know when it is appropriate to refer to professional services,” said Haley Atkins, clinical case manager at Ghering.

The program functions as 10 weeks of training regarding how students can appropriately speak to their fellow EU classmates going through mental health emergencies such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, dating and sexuality, and grief.

Dr. Mary Wolf, a clinical psychologist at Ghering, said that the program was started because, “We know from research that college students tend to listen to their peers better than professionals.”

“We also know research shows that often times college students want to help. They want to assist their peers, friends and classmates, but they don’t know how,” she continued.

Once trained, these students will ideally have the skills to help any peers through a mental health emergency.

But there are limits. The responders are volunteers. They will not be paid for their work, and they are not certified mental health practitioners. Rather, they act as a compassionate ear, and they then refer other students to the best resource for their needs.

Responders have to attend a mandatory monthly meeting.

“The monthly meeting is for debriefing purposes and is a safe place for group support and concerns,” said Atkins.

The 10-week training program will teach students how to respond appropriately to different scenarios and how to speak to students going through these emergencies. “Role playing” is an important teaching tool, in which students act out different scenarios while instructors then guide them on how to respond. The training will run Tuesdays, from 6 to 8 p.m. Applications where due Feb. 4, and the program has began its run.

Everything that participants share in terms of their own mental health journeys are confidential through these sessions. Atkins hopes this program will help end the stigma on mental illness and make students more comfortable reaching out about these issues.

“We learn how to talk about uncomfortable topics. Sometimes it helps to have someone relatable who could potentially be in their age group.”

Although there’s been momentum toward openness regarding mental illness and issues, there are still challenges ahead.

“I see movement toward more open discussion and talking about mental health issues. There’s still that stigma [though]. The thing is the younger generations are a lot more open about it,” Wolf said.

According to a 2018 study from researchers at Penn State University and North Carolina State University, students wanted more services from college counseling centers. They found that between 2012 and 2018, their counseling centers had a 40 percent increase in overall demand for counseling services. According to the article: “Because availability for individual counseling is often limited due to demand, students are placed with counselors based on severity of need. To help support students more quickly and sometimes during waiting periods, the Counseling Center may refer students to supportive group sessions aimed at reducing anxiety and stress, online therapy modules, or suggest a meeting with a peer mental health ambassador.”

Ghering has instituted a similar protocol. In the past, students who wanted to speak to a licensed counselor could directly schedule an appointment with them.

However, as of 2019, Edinboro students now have to schedule an appointment with a case worker who evaluates the severity of their case and then assigns them to a counselor, or recommends outside counseling for them.

Wolf added that advocacy and awareness of these issues is important. “I think the more we can talk about these issues openly, and the more that we offer this training, I just think it opens more awareness about this topic, and I think that’s all good. And I think hopefully we’ll see more students being able to reach out to each other and help guide each other and point them in the right direction for resources.”

Applications for the training program closed Tuesday, Feb. 4. Completed applications will go through an interview process before they are admitted to the program. Any questions and concerns can be directed toward Atkins at, or Dr. Mary Wolf at

The Ghering Health and Wellness Center can be contacted at 814-732-2743.

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