A New Peer-Support Mental Health Resource Comes to Boston College

by Oliva Colombo

 

On January 21, a group of students at Boston College officially launched a peer support text hotline, Lean On Me (LOM), to address the growing need for mental health resources on campus.  Students can confidentially text the hotline to receive support for non-crisis situations and be connected to a trained peer supporter.

“I believe that Lean On Me fulfills a role in the mental health ecosystem at BC that has previously been empty,” explained Reed Piercey, president of UGBC and the chapter founder and president of Lean On Me. “Currently, students' primary option for mental health support is University Counseling Services (UCS). Due to the amount of demand that is placed on UCS, we know that they struggle to meet staffing needs and to keep appointment wait times reasonable.”

 

UCS does provide a 24-hour line staffed by a psychological emergency clinician, but there is often a high demand for these resources, and student faces the challenge of overcoming potential stigmas for emergency support or for counseling in general. “For all of these reasons,” stated Piercey, “an accessible, non-crisis support system like Lean On Me provides a much-needed outlet for discussion and listening for students who need it. It is meant to be there for anyone who needs any kind of peer support, regardless of what they are going through.”

 

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Piercey volunteered at the Samaritans suicide hotline in downtown Boston during his freshman year. “I saw the good that an accessible, non-judgmental space for empathy and listening could do,” he said, “and I thought that BC's campus could really benefit from a similar service.”

 

Through Samaritans, Piercey found out about MIT’s creation of Lean On Me. After negotiation with the university and passing it as a resolution through UGBC’s Student Assembly, Lean On Me was allowed to form a chapter at BC this past year.

Thirty-five student supporters have been in extensive training since last semester, and will soon all be available to support their peers confidentially via text.  After the launch on Monday, one of the supporters, Sanjana Ratakonda, MCAS ‘22, explained, “I was really excited to get involved in the beginning stages of this organization because I believe we really need a resource that will enact change around the discussion of mental health on campus.”

 

The concept of a text line appeals to young adults for its confidentially, and as Ratakonda explained, “I think people should feel free and open to converse with us because it’s not face-to-face, and we’re here to help you with whatever you’re going through. College is a tough time personally and as a student, and we’re here to help you navigate that in any way you'd like us to.”

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With regard to confidentiality, neither the supporter nor the student can see the number or identity of the person on the other end of the line, and should the conversation turn to a situation of crisis, supporters are trained to recommend resources like UCS or if there is an imminent risk, the text will anonymously be transferred to the Samaritan’s professional line.

 

Regarding his hopes for BC’s new resource, Piercey concluded, “The greatest takeaway I hope students gain from LOM is that they deserve to care for their mental health, and that our sole reason for existing is to provide a space where they can open up without judgment. We will not be able to break the stigma around discussing mental health on this campus until conversations like the ones we have at LOM are normalized. We are here to allow the student body to process what they are going through in a casual and healthy way, which hopefully will improve the overall quality of the BC experience.”

 

Students can access the text hotline by texting (617) 553-6655 at any time, or by visiting the Lean On Me website at https://lean0n.me/bc/.  To get involved as a supporter, apply to join the team next semester by submitting an application at https://lean0n.me/bc/account/login. After creating an account, one will be able to log in and access the Supporter application.

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