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Campus Celebrity: Peer Support Network

Regardless of what year you’re in, at some point during your university career, you have probably felt the need to talk to someone. As awesome as McGill is, it can be tough balancing schoolwork, social life, and taking care of yourself. Luckily for us, McGill offers the Peer Service Network (PSN) to any students who may be feeling overwhelmed by university, or just by life in general. Her Campus McGill spoke with Emily Yung, a member of the PSN exec and the Mental Health Education Coordinator of Mental Health Service, and Mariel Barkey, PSN’s Volunteer Coordinator, to find out more about how McGillians can profit from PSN’s services.

(Peer Support Network Exec Team 2014-2015)

Regina Wung for Her Campus McGill (HC McGill): What is the Peer Support Network? How did it get started?

Emily Yung (EY): The Peer Support Network (PSN) is a non-judgmental, confidential, and student-run student service that provides a listening ear to students who need to talk to a peer. We are a free drop-in service that welcomes all McGill students. Currently, we offer drop-in hours in the Brown Building Room 2100 every Wednesday and Thursday from 5-7pm.

PSN has been running for two years and started in the summer of 2013. To start PSN, we applied and were successfully granted some money from the Mary H. Brown Fund from the Office of the Dean of Students. We planned over the summer and trained our volunteers to have our first open drop-in hours in December 2013!

HC McGill: How did you get involved? What drew you to PSN?

Mariel Barkey (MB): I got involved in PSN’s first year as a volunteer. After working for a summer at a Mental Health hospital, I got really interested in mental health. I began to realize how much of an impact it has in everyone’s lives and how great the need for mental health services was here at McGill. I found out that PSN was starting up and was really excited to see something like this trying to address the needs of the students on campus, so sent in my application!

HC McGill: What does PSN mean to you?

EY: The Peer Support Network represents peers helping peers and community. Being at university is a journey that has its highs and its lows. In times of need, PSN is an available source of support for all students and is a place where students can feel heard and connected.

HC McGill: How are peer supporters trained?

MB: Our training goes for a week in August and focuses on active listening with additional training sessions that include topics such as mental health, suicide, grief, self-care, diversity, and resources available to students on campus. We have experienced trainers come in from Mental Health Services, Counseling Services, and SACOMSS, among others. The active listening training has forever changed the way that I listen to people, it’s a great workshop and I highly recommend it for everyone!

(Peer Support Network Exec Team 2015-2016)

HC McGill: Though the conversations are completely confidential, the fact that PSN is run by fellow peers may keep some from utilizing its service. What would you say to a student who wants to confide in someone but feels discouraged?

EY: Confidentiality is an essential component to the role of our peer supporters and we uphold confidentiality as one of the core values of our organization. All volunteer peer supporters have completed 30+ hours of training, and have been trained on confidentiality and ethical conduct. Our peer supporters provide a safer space for students to share what they wish to share and we do our best to keep this confidential. The only two instances where confidentiality is breached is when a student is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others. We do say this at the opening of a drop-in session to ensure that students and the peer supporters are on the same page.

HC McGill: How can students who are feeling down reach out?

MB: If you’re feeling down and feel like you need to talk to someone in person, PSN is open from 5-7 pm in Brown Building 2100 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. If going to talk to someone in person is too overwhelming or if you need to talk when we’re not open, then McGill Nightline (514-398-6246) is also a great place to reach out. Taking the first step towards talking to someone may seem scary, but there are a lot of great people who are ready to listen!

HC McGill: Any final thoughts you’d like to add?

EY: PSN has been a part of the solution to building a more mentally healthy campus. Although we have only existed for two years, we do hope that we can continue to serve the McGill student population in future years with more drop-in hours and a greater presence and visibility among students.


Images contributed by the interviewees.

After spending a wonderful fall 2015 term in Paris, France, Regina is in her final semester at McGill University, studying Economics and French. She loves reading and writing in her spare time, travelling to foreign places, and baking anything she has the ingredients for. She also occasionally plays the oboe. Some of Regina's favourites include the colour blue, the season of fall, and the movie You've Got Mail. You can follow her on Instagram under the handle @reginawung.
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