Northeastern University’s first peer mental health program “Husky to Husky” aims to help students navigate on and off campus resources
College for many young adults represents a time of freedom and the introduction to adulthood allowing people to discover themselves. However, stress and the rapid change of environment can take its toll, according to a national mental health survey more than 25% of college students live with a diagnosable mental health disorder. With suicide as the second largest cause of death among college students nationally, it is crucial that learning institutions nationwide have a robust and efficient support network.
“Husky to Husky” a program in collaboration with OPEN (the Office of Prevention and Education at Northeastern) was set in motion at the start of the 2016 academic year. It aims to aid students seeking help, navigate what can be a daunting and lacking mental health system, informing students of what resources are available to them. The program recruits passionate student volunteers called “peer educators” who are then trained by OPEN to become well versed in what resources are available both on and off campus and how they can be reached.
From a humble beginning to a promising future
Alex Bender, a sophomore at NU and co-founder of “Husky to Husky” said that the program although is new, the idea was not.
“The idea of having a peer resource for mental health on campus, was bounced around for years, and no one really did anything about it,” said Bender. As Vice President for Student Affairs, he was already aware of the demand by students for a peer mental health program. Bender described collegiate mental health issues as something “I am passionate about advocating for.” After hearing from students who shared their unsatisfactory experiences with on campus mental health resources, Bender decided to turn the idea into a reality.
“It frustrates me how many students aren’t able to get access to adequate resources on and off campus.” Bender said, adding, “the amount of frustration regarding this ignites a fire within me.”
In its second semester and approximately 15 peer educators strong, the program has a solid influence. Bender said the program is unique in how it provides students with the peer-to-peer dialogue and has been well received. “I have received emails from people saying they are very happy this is up and running.”
How does it work?
The program appears on campus in tabling events led by peer educators who are available to engage in free dialogue with students in an informal setting. Examples of questions that students ask include “who do I go to and why am I not able to get an appointment at UHCS?” said Bender. While the program is student to student Bender stressed that a peer educator is “not a counsel role, we help you learn about resources available and how to navigate the system.” Describing the role of a peer educator as a “patient to advocate role.” He also said that the “true long-term solution is to ensure we make investment to provide quality resources on campus.”
How it should be used
Alyssa Kania, peer educator and third year student at NU exhibited similar motivation as reason to get involved saying, “I know how it is personally and through friends how frustrating it can be when you have issues and have the whole obstacle of getting help.” Kania said that some students are not only afraid of using resources but more often than not; do not know where to find them. She said “the main thing is exposure and being able to give that information to students.”
Additionally, Kania described Husky to Husky as an umbrella organization, “backed by Northeastern, we have connections at every single office” she said. Also saying that it should be treated as “a one stop shop for any mental health resources on campus.”
Bender and Kania both hope that the program will continue grow, both in influence and in number of peer educators. Kania said “I see husky to husky as being more well known, I hope that it would be one of the go to resources for students, if they ever did run into a situation they would immediately go to husky to husky.”
Husky to Husky’s information can be found here: