According to data from the Healthy Minds Network, an average 32 percent of college and university students are dealing with some type of mental illness. However, of those 32 percent of students who are dealing with some type of mental illness, only about 40 percent of them actually seek any kind of help.
Let’s put that into perspective: in the 2015 academic year, the University of South Carolina had around 25,000 undergraduate students. That means that around 8,000 students dealt with some type of mental illness, but only around 3,200 students actually sought help for their mental illness.
A 2012 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that there has been a significant increase in the frequency and severity of students reporting a variety of psychological distress. This psychological distress reported by students varies from pre-existing mental health conditions, short-term or situational mental health problems-such as temporary anxiety and stress from classes or relationships, or any combination thereof. In fact, about 95 percent of school and university administrators agree that mental health is a significant issue at their respective educational institution.
Now, given all these studies and alarming statistics, the big question is: “what is the overpowering reason that so many college and university students are not seeking help for their mental issues?” The answer is simple: negative stigma that surrounds seeking mental help. Some students may see seeking help from a professional as intimidating, some see it as admitting a huge weakness, and some students simply do not know where to begin seeking help within the campus mental health resources. This is where Gamecock Reach comes in.
Gamecock Reach is a new up and coming student organization at the University of South Carolina. This new organization aims to de-stigmatize seeking help for mental health related issues. Gamecock Reach creates a very comfortable and nonjudgmental atmosphere by offering a peer listening service, where students are able to drop by the Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Russell House West Wing during designated hours and talk with the peer listeners. “I think Gamecock Reach is a great way to make mental health discussions more approachable. And hopefully once this program really takes off, people on campus will feel less afraid to talk about mental health or use our school’s resources” said Annie O’Halloran, who is a peer listener and also serves as the Gamecock Reach marketing director.
Peer listening, which also can be called peer counseling, is very different from regular counseling from a mental health professional. In peer listening, the “listener” is an undergraduate student who provides nonprofessional guidance in order to aid their peers. In turn, when students come to peer listeners with low level issues-such as anxiety from classes or stress from friend or roommate problems, the peer listener is able to guide the person to the right resources they may need, whether it be on campus or within the Midlands community.
The Gamecock Reach peer listeners are trained in mental health advocacy, especially with mental health services on campus and around Columbia. Many of the peer listeners are psychology majors, or have psychology as their minor, but anyone is welcome to become a peer listener. Peer listeners are selected through a rigorous application and interview process. After they are chosen, the peer listeners then begin their training in mental health advocacy and then they can begin. “Our job as peer listeners is not the same as therapists, but our goal is to make students feel more comfortable talking about their stress or problems, and then also become that middle man to help students get in touch with the right resources that they may need,” explained Annie O’Halloran.
During an average peer listening session, you can expect a non-judgmental and empathetic person to listen to your issue, and then create a discussion on options for a successful outcome to your specific problem. Gamecock Reach specifically strives to solve smaller problems before they can create a much larger and more complex problem. Also, everything you discuss with a peer listener during a session is completely anonymous, except in cases here it is mandatory to report, such as harming yourself or others.
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