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Support others in mental health – but first, yourself

In a mental health survey on college students by the American College Health Association in 2016, 52.7 percent of all students surveyed reported feeling that there were severe circumstances in their life that seemed hopeless and without resolve. Another 39 percent of students reported feeling that they were so depressed, they found it difficult to complete daily tasks over the past 12 months.

There are several factors playing into the increase in mental health issues among students. Some of these factors are severe, such as increased incidences of either a completed or attempted sexual assault in college communities. However, other factors are subtle but have a harsh impact on mental health, such as the glamorization and increase of college students pulling all-nighters and not eating regularly.

Project LETS began at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, seeking to remedy the overwhelming mental health stigma and struggles that have overpowered over half of all college students. The program has quickly expanded to other college campuses like Yale, Cornell and Michigan State, and it’s centered on providing students with the resources they need, beginning with peer support.

Lindsay Gantz, an advocate for Project LETS and former senior staff writer for The Brown Daily Herald, discussed her time as a peer counselor with the publication. “We definitely aren’t therapists, and we’re not qualified to administer care to everyone. The main purpose of being a [peer mental health advocate] is to be a supportive resource and ally,” she said. “The point is to be supportive for whatever the needs for the other students are. We create a personal safety plan with them and work on setting goals for recovery.”

It is important to have students take the stage to lead the movement and discussions around mental health, in order for other students to get a sense of the overwhelming amount of people that deal with the same mental health struggles. Additionally, it creates a community centered around support and life experiences. Elyn Saks, Director of the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, explains the importance of peer counseling in Project LETS. “Project LETS does the incredibly important work of giving people with lived experience a platform to tell their stories. No one understands as well as another consumer; and putting a face on mental illness is the best way to reduce stigma.”

There are simple steps that you can take in order to counsel your peers and help them fight the overwhelming feelings that accompany mental illness. Bring a snack to the library for a friend to ensure they’re eating. Leave room for conversations that don’t involve academic achievement, and check in with one another and express concern on a genuine level. Be honest about your schedules. “Are you overcommitted?” Project LETS asks. And the most important of them all: “Don’t glamorize unhealthy behavior, such as not sleeping or eating.”

Finals are quickly approaching, and it is important to demonstrate to your classmates the importance of taking care of one another. This starts with taking care of yourself, by first establishing healthy behaviors like getting enough sleep and food. You can’t pour into others from an empty glass.

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