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CPS Blog: Peer Support on Campus at University of Michigan

February 5, 2018

By Kelly Davis, Director of Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services at Mental Health America,

In September 2017, Mental Health America launched its first Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council (CMHIC). CMHIC is made up of student leaders from around the US who are dedicated to filling gaps in supports and services on their campuses. 

Two members, Sam Orley and Max Rothman, are student leaders at University of Michigan's Wolverine Support Network (WSN). They've created a model for peer support on-campus and shared some information on the history, model, and successes of the program for this month's blog!

How did your program get started?

The origination of this organization in 2014 was led by students who were inspired to change the campus culture of mental health and well-being following the suicide of two University of Michigan students.

After understanding that “undergraduate students are the single most potent source of influence for undergraduate student affective and cognitive growth and development during college” a Peer-to-Peer Support Model was introduced. This model was inspired by a high school program at Harvard-Westlake, but retrofitted for a college setting.

Ultimately, the vision was to eliminate the harsh social stigmas, financial burdens and timing inconveniences associated with engaging in topics related to mental health and well-being.

How does your program work?

Wolverine Support Network is a community and student organization on campus that helps to improve and promote student mental health and well-being through weekly, peer-facilitated groups and bi-weekly, stress-busting, Kickback Friday events.

Weekly Groups (~ 6-9 students per group) are led by students who are trained in holistic health and well-being campus resources to create a space and facilitate a dialogue that is accessible, inclusive and engaging. We have 70+ trained student Leaders and 600+ student Members.

Interested students can easily sign-up by selecting a 1-hour time slot and location on campus that works best with their schedule. Then, they will meet with a consistent, cost-free and confidential group each week. Our intention is that these Weekly Groups can offer students a chance to build self-awareness, engage honestly and openly with others and create meaningful relationships.

What has been your biggest success?

There is at least one student who is alive today because of this organization. Further, there are countless other students who have become their best selves. Every Weekly Group is in itself a success; as we empower students to prioritize their identity, well-being and day-to-day lives. We are proud of our sustained existence (11 semesters and running), consistent development (600+ students) and national recognition (30+ interested universities).

Why is peer support important for college students?

Students want to turn to other students!

We believe there are two critical barriers to improving mental health and well-being on college campuses. First is the dialogue. Social norms and stigma overpower awareness and honest conversation. Second is the form, accessibility, and cost of available resources. Our Peer Support Model eliminates social stigmas, financial burdens, and accessibility concerns.

We believe that existing resources to address and promote mental health and well-being are ultimately insufficient and ineffective on college campuses. Many students do not feel comfortable discussing various topics that deeply affect their lives, let alone seeking help.

It is a warm reminder that:

  • You are valued
  • You are human
  • You are not alone
  • You feel emotions
  • There is positivity in the world

What's the best way for people interested in bringing peer support to their campuses to contact you?




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