SLU Peer Health Network helps open campus discussion around health and mental health, pushing for advocacy and change.
“Some students feel more comfortable talking to a peer than a counselor directly from the center,” says Rebecca Caudill ’22, president of the SLU Peer Health Network, a new student-led organization working to confront the stigma of mental health struggles.
The SLU Peer Health Network, or SLUPHN, came from an idea students had while participating in a Community-Based Learning (CBL) class in the spring 2021 semester. The course was centered around the premise of wellness, and students decided to further their semester’s work by creating something that could potentially benefit the St. Lawrence community for years to come.
“The development of this network came from the hope to increase mental health conversations in a way that normalizes mental health and comforts people so that they know it’s all right to talk about it, and there’s nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of,” says Caudill. “I’m hoping we can open up conversation about what students are thinking, feeling, and struggling with to collect some common themes that we can put into action to bring to administration so that they know what our college students are struggling with.”
Even before COVID-19, Caudill says there was a need to increase the resources on campus working to break the barrier that often surrounds mental health and the fear to talk about it. To start this network and get it to take off in a positive direction, the class put out a call for people who were interested in becoming peer mentors. When asked why she decided to answer that call and take on this opportunity, not only a member but a leader, Caudill states, “I’m planning on going into community public health, and normalizing mental health advocacy is really important to me.”
Caudill emphasizes that the network’s main goal is to help destigmatize conversations surrounding mental health. The Diana B. Torrey ’82 Health and Counseling Center works directly with SLUPHN to conduct mental health training sessions during which students learn the techniques necessary to be a peer health mentor. In this role, and with these important trainings, students are then able to meet with their peers and have open conversations about wellness.
The development of this network came from the hope to increase mental health conversations in a way that normalizes mental health and comforts people so that they know it’s alright to talk about it, and there’s nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of.” – Rebecca Caudill ’22, president of the SLU Peer Health Network
Caudill explains that “students go through a multi-hour training on topics such as suicide prevention, connecting with students without overpowering them, and methods to have conversations with their fellow classmates about mental health.” Peer health mentors are also trained to recognize when the conversation may need a more professional or immediate intervention.
“Time and feedback will allow the network to adjust and continue to become more impactful,” says Caudill. “Some St. Lawrence students with particular situations may even benefit more from having a more casual meeting with a peer health mentor than going to a counseling appointment at the Health Center.” She hopes that the presence of an on-campus network that works to fight mental health stigmas, advocate for resources, and provide support to fellow peers could influence a positive change within student culture on campus and help shape the way the Laurentian community views wellness.