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In this interview, I had the privilege of sitting down with a Positive Peer to learn more about their work at King’s College London. Positive Peers is a student organization that centres around helping fellow students with their mental health and well-being.

Though this interview has been condensed, the integrity of the content remains the same.

 

NE: Why did you join Positive Peers and what is the organization about?

PP: My first year at university was quite challenging. I always had this image that university would be the best time of my life. But I quickly realized that the stress and anxiety, which is expected to an extent, was not advertised. The jump from high school to university is something entirely different.

And I remember seeing an ad in the summer of 2020 from Positive Peers. It detailed how they wanted to create an environment, a community, that focuses not just on mental health but mental well-being too. I only found out myself that mental health and mental well-being were distinguishable after joining Positive Peers. After seeing this, I knew that this was something that I was interested in. I really sought to help first-year students, who have had no contact during the pandemic.

Positive Peers are not professionals, or academics. From the position of non-judgmental peers, they help to reassure students that what they are feeling is completely normal and part of the learning and growing process. Since the Peers have also faced similar emotional dilemmas, we are able to connect with students and understand them.

Positive Peers is structured into 3 main teams. One of the teams, which I am part of, is the Health Education team. We focus on creating events, establishing a community, providing sessions that discuss resilience skills, self-care activities, and providing a space to talk about important and vulnerable issues.

The second team is the Peer Support Group. Peers here support individuals with one-to-one discussions. Again, they are not professionals, but these sessions are a mutual forum to talk and be listened to by your fellow students.

The third team is the Digital Team. They handle advertising the events and maintaining the organisation’s social media pages.

 

What type of initiatives do you have at Positive Peers?

There is a diverse background of events and initiatives available.

In my role in the Health Education team, we have been focusing on Thrive sessions. It’s a 3-week programme, with 1.5 hour sessions each week talking about self-care, resilience, and set-backs. The first week is educating individuals on the distinction between mental health and mental well-being. They aren’t aligned but are two different things that operate on a continuum. You can have excellent mental health but poor mental well-being because you don’t have many activities that help you take care of yourself. Or, you might suffer from poor mental health but have systems and methods in place that help you combat these issues.

In the second week, we provide a flexible framework on how to keep self-evaluating, reflecting, and growing. By sharing ideas in some of the sessions, we learnt more about each other and encouraged students to try out self-care activities that are suitable for them.

The third week was probably the most uncomfortable because it focused on different struggles. We understand that individual resilience is very different. Instead, we reassure students that it’s absolutely fine to suffer setbacks and recover from them at your own pace. It’s important to reflect, go to the root of the problem, but not to be too hard on yourself. This can provide a mechanism for self-improvement. In these moments in time, your mind might be temporarily clouded and you might be emotional, but this is completely natural and shouldn’t be avoided.

These are the Thrive sessions. I’ve gone through the Thrive sessions about three times now. Not only was it helpful for students but allowed me to recognise that the advice provided in the sessions is also helpful for me.

 

Have you found that students are more amenable to learning about the distinction between mental health and mental well-being during the pandemic?

I can only hope. Even for people who are always self-reflecting, I don’t think they immediately grasp the difference between mental health and mental well-being. One of the aspects of our training was looking at things from a different perspective. This includes reframing issues as part of mental health difficulties and opening up a wider, accepting narrative. I really can’t say if people have recognized that mental well-being is as important as good mental health. I can really only hope. And I hope that Positive Peers has helped with this process. I think, at the very least, there has been a lot of focus towards mental well-being. Compared to Positive Peers’ position in September 2020 and now [February 2021], student organisations and the university itself have been more vigilant in providing mental health educational resources. Students just have to be willing to reach out and take them.

 

Have you seen an increase in willingness from students to learn more about mental health in general?

That’s an interesting question. I get the feeling that people are just exhausted from virtual events. With some events that Positive Peers host, we try and switch this up so people are not forced to participate. This can create a more relaxing and comfortable atmosphere. I know that the individuals who joined the participation-based Thrive sessions really did find it helpful and did implement what they learnt. I’m not entirely sure if the measures have reached the general population at large, but it has helped students on a smaller scale, which is good.

 

Do you think it’s better to have a variety of Positive Peer session types, such as a mix of individual sessions and group sessions, or does it really depend on the individual?

I personally think that the best, most optimal environment is a small group gathering of about 4 or 5 people. All the events that we do focus on connecting with people which can’t be achieved in a larger group. This helps people meet, discuss, and engage better.

 

You mentioned that the last Thrive session focused on sharing experiences. Were individuals willing to share their experience, or come to terms with their struggles?

The Thrive sessions were structured in a way that builds a rapport in the first two weeks, before the third session. This allows individuals to be comfortable enough to talk about stress, struggles, and setbacks. I think, from the sessions, we do share a lot of similar struggles and that echoes back to why Positive Peers is so useful. This is because the barriers that you find with a personal tutor or licensed therapist aren’t present when talking with peers. This is very unique and can’t be found elsewhere. This is why smaller groups are also better because larger groups can be more daunting.

 

Have you had attendees from all departments of the university?

We’ve been lucky to have a diverse group. Sometimes, there are sessions that focus on certain societies, but the students themselves come from all different backgrounds and backgrounds of studies.

What is also one of the highlights is that each event requires 2 Positive Peer facilitators. This means that we can also reflect, learn from each other, and get involved.

 

Have you had time to self-reflect and take care of yourself?

Yes, definitely. With the sharing of the self-care activities, listening to positive feedback, and listening to honest experiences, I become more educated and view things more practically through the lens of the Thrive sessions.

 

It is important to take care of yourself, especially during such a tumultuous time. This may be in whatever method is suitable and helpful for you.

 

For further information and upcoming Positive Peers events:

https://www.kclsu.org/help/wellbeing/positivepeers/

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/productive-pomodoro-with-the-positive-peers-tickets-138233308547

https://twitter.com/positivepeers17?lang=en

https://www.facebook.com/positivepeerskcl/

https://www.instagram.com/positive.peers/?hl=en

 

Law student, avid writer, and all-round opinionated. Keenly interested in charity work, the world of literature, and creativity, this account will be dedicated towards creating articles filled with stories, statements, and views.