According to the organization Mental Health Foundation, peer-run self-help groups can improve mental health, prevent hospitalization and help increase self-esteem and boost social functioning.
As a student who suffers from various mental illnesses, I’ve found that reaching out to a peer can sometimes be just as helpful as a session with a therapist. Talking to friends or peers in similar stages of life has proven to be an invaluable part of my treatment, along with pharmacotherapy and regular counselling.
Knowing that talking to friends and peers has been helpful in the past, I decided to try out the U of T’s Health and Wellness Peer Support program and speak to a fellow peer.
I first discovered the Health and Wellness Peer Support program while scrolling through the various mental health resources on the Mental Health website. Initially, I questioned whether the program would actually be beneficial to me. What if I didn’t have anything to say to my student peer? What if my problems weren’t big enough to discuss?
Thankfully, my worries were soon quelled when I began talking to my assigned peer. Not only was she kind and nonjudgmental, but she displayed an authentic interest in my life. The conversation gave way to a genuine discussion about my life goals, the anxiety and pressure of performing well in school, and the excitement about the upcoming semester break. I went from feeling nervous about “bothering” my assigned peer, to being extremely grateful for having signed up to talk with her.
Also, I couldn’t help but notice how much more comfortable I was talking to my student peer than I generally am when talking to counsellors, doctors and psychiatrists.
While I know that mental health professionals are trained to be empathetic and compassionate, I’ve discovered that nobody understands the unique experience of being a student in a pandemic better than other students. COVID-19 has made this year extremely difficult, and thus, it was nice to speak with another student about the trials and tribulations of virtual learning, the difficulties of feeling isolated, and various resources available to struggling students like myself.
What I loved most about the Health and Wellness Peer Support program is that each session is one-on-one and confidential. It was amazing to know that everything that I said to my assigned student peer, would stay between the two of us. Likewise, each of the peer support members are well-equipped and trained to be able to effectively help and engage students who are going through an especially difficult time.
For me, talking to friends, students and peers has been one of ways I’ve cared for my mental health and engaged in self-care during this pandemic. Now that there’s a built-in peer support program at U of T, I will definitely be using this resource more often.
As someone who may eventually go to graduate school, I’m thankful to know that this peer support program is available to both undergraduate and graduate students who attend the St. George branch at U of T.