University Peer Listening Program Aims to Support Student Mental Health

April 11, 2022

By Alan Hunt | April 10, 2022 | 2:19pm EDT

UNC students can connect with and receive support from their fellow students through "Listen, Support, Navigate", or LSN for short.

The program is a part of UNC's recently launched Heels Care Network, a collection of support resources for students. LSN is a live chat feature that allows students to connect with peers anonymously.

It features undergraduate, graduate and professional student volunteers who can talk with students and help guide them toward other resources.

Samantha Luu, associate director for the UNC-CH Peer Support Core, said she understands that it can be hard to find students to ask for help and find the right mental health resources on campus.

“As a student, you're not necessarily seeking a staff member, you're seeking someone who's also in classes with you and might also live in a dorm and have similar experiences,” Luu said. 

In a typical interaction, a support-seeker will initiate the conversation through the chat portal on the website, then a listener will introduce themselves and interact with the student according to their needs, which Luu said in an email.

Peer listeners must go through about 20 hours of initial training along with ongoing supervision and training, as well as check-ins with staff, according to Luu. Skills that are trained include empathetic communication and active listening.

“During initial training, we encourage LSNers to self-reflect on their own experiences and identities and how that may influence a supportive interaction in different ways,” Luu said in an email.

Luu said that the training curriculum includes lessons about peer support skills and mental first aid, as well as a requirement training related to a "high-priority" group that the listener does not identify with — such as the Safe Zone trainings through the LGBTQ Center, or Green Zone training to learn more about the experiences of military-affiliated students.

One of the program's goals is to provide support for members of high-priority communities, such as BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and first generation college students, Luu said. 

“We wanted to build this culture of care and compassion at UNC-Chapel Hill where everyone feels supported and empowered to ask for help,” Patrick Tang, program manager of Peers for Progress, said. “And COVID gave us kind of a bigger reason to work on campus.”

Listeners are available to chat from Sunday to Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. LSNers work in shifts one hour at a time, Luu said in an email, and they are trained to offer follow-up care to someone after their initial conversation. 

Although the service is hosted on the Heels Care Network website, Tang said students may keep in touch with their peer listener through email or text.

Students who use LSN can request to speak with specific peer listeners again by following up with them after their chat or emailing the organization directly, Luu said in an email. 

Peer listener Maggi Mazza said she enjoys working with LSN because it allows her to make mental health support more accessible to others.

"I really feel like it's important to make sure that everybody knows that they're somewhere that their perspective will be cherished, and that they will be listened to," Mazza said.

Students interested in volunteering to become peer listeners through the program will soon be able to apply through its website, Luu said. 

The program is financially supported through a grant from the UNC System and is administratively supported by the UNC-CH Peer Support Core, several campus service collaborators and other student-led resources.

“I think that mental health has been on the back burner for a really long time, and I feel like it's time to push it forward,” Mazza said. "And to really emphasize that, if we're going to create a community that is successful and sustainable, that mental health has to be the primary discussion.”

Students interested in using LSN can access it through its webpage. For those needing emergency, urgent and crisis care, the program encourages using other campus resources, such as the UNC Counseling and Psychological Services 24/7 line: 919-966-3658.

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