A free, on-campus peer counselling service for McGill students is set to launch Dec. 14.
Named the Peer Support Network (PSN), the student-run initiative will host drop-in sessions with volunteers who are trained to handle issues such as mental health, academic stress, and social pressures.
The PSN began when Emily Yung, a graduate student in psychiatry and the director of the service, applied for funding from the Mary H. Brown Endowment for student-run health initiatives. According to Yung, the service is meant to fill the lack of one-on-one peer support programs at McGill.
“Many students come from across Canada without any social circles in Montreal, or from across the world and they don’t have a friend,” Yung said. “It can be scary [and] academic pressures are high. Sometimes, there is nobody to talk to [….] We felt that this was a definite need for McGill students.”
Staffed by a group of 24 student volunteers, the program will host drop-in sessions in the Chaplaincy Services room of the Brown Student Services Building every Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Volunteers will offer one-on-one support and provide information on further resources available to students.
All volunteers must complete a 30-hour training course in order to become peer counsellors. According to Yung, McGill mental health specialists will lead this training to ensure that counsellors provide effective and non-judgmental service for students.
Elizabeth Cawley, member services officer of the Post-Graduates’ Student Society (PGSS), said the PSN will provide a different service than the mental health services McGill currently offers.
“The PSN volunteers are not professionals, and it isn’t expected to take the place of Mental Health or Counselling Services—nor should it,” Crowley said. “However, these volunteers are extensively trained and will be able to offer support to students in early distress.”
According to Yung, improvements to the program will be developed through evaluations from both volunteers and students using the PSN. Organizers will also communicate with universities around Canada with similar programs.
“We’ve received a lot of help from Canadian universities, giving us the resources of their peer support programs,” Yung said. “We need to have an evidence-based approach to this.”
Yung said the PSN also plans to anonymously track stressors in order achieve a better understanding of common issues for students.
Nancy Li, U1 Arts, said she applied to be a PSN volunteer because she recognizes the challenges facing students who are dealing with mental health problems.
“In a large community like McGill, it’s easy to feel lost and insignificant,” Li said. “I think it’s crucial for everyone to realize that they have a voice that deserves to be heard. I find it extremely frustrating that seeking support for mental health is often stigmatized, accompanied by shame, and lacking representation on campus.”
According to Crowley, the creation of the PSN indicates a growing awareness of mental health issues on campus.
“From the very beginning it has been a mix of undergraduate and graduate students working together to solve a problem that transcends our level of education,” she said. “I think it is really amazing that we can come together, realizing that we have different experiences but that we are a community and we want to support one another.”