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Support service program launched at university

An online peer support service aimed at helping students through the stresses of their lives is launching at the University of Lethbridge in what organizers are calling a Canadian first.

7 Cups of Tea held their first event at the university on Monday by providing a space for students to come and sit, and meet and discuss their concerns over tea and cookies. The kickoff was also an opportunity for students looking to volunteer some time to gain a better understanding of the program.

Mark Slomp, the U of L’s Counselling Services manager, said students using the program have the option of getting in touch with local peers trained in supportive listening, or they can reach out to the global network of volunteers.

“It’s kind of an on-demand service,” said Slomp. “They can access it 24-7, whenever they want.

“If they ever want someone to chat with to get some support, or just get something off their minds they have access to somebody trained in supportive listening.”

Students often struggle with anxiety and other pressures related to their education and campus experience and to their lives in general. Slomp said the university tries to provide as many avenues as possible for students to have any help they may need, should they decide to look for it.

The end of the semester can be particularly stressful for students, one of the reasons the event was organized for the spring.

‘That’s one of the reasons we timed it at this juncture in the semester,” he said. “This is a time when things are winding up, and the pressure increases. Finals are coming, and it’s end of term, so it is definitely a good time to launch a program like this and make students aware of it.”

7 Cups of Tea is the premier emotional support system for the Internet. Founded in 2013 by a licensed psychologist, it was designed as an emotional support system with the simple premise that everyone should have access to a great listener.

Users can go online or open an app and, within seconds, exchange texts with trained active listeners, including student peers, registered psychologists, and mental health professionals.

The company currently boasts more than 120,000 listeners providing support in 140 languages across 180 countries worldwide.

Slomp said the university has a need for students who would like to get involved in the program as listeners. Those who sign up can take a training program and become active listeners on campus to support their peers.

Slomp said 20 per cent of students in the past year accessed counselling services, but more than 35 per cent felt that they could have used those services but did not reach out.

The program could encourage more of those students to reach out if only because they could be more inclined to do so with a fellow student.

“We know students really resonate with their peers,” Slomp said. “Peer support is a really powerful form of support. That’s why it’s really valuable to have students get involved and support one another.”

The fact the program is run through texting is significant when trying to reach young people, who are very active texters.

“We have to meet them where they are at,” Slomp said. “We have to intersect our services with how they are accessing services and support.”

Retrieved from the Lethbridge Herald, written by J.W. Schnarr