Student Support Network program to return this spring with focus on mindfulness

The program, established in 2017, offers participants four sessions that practice recognizing mental health warning signs in their peers.

by Jackie Wright | 1/17/23 5:00am

59b80ebe-c6d4-4b68-99e4-93f99826cced-sized-1000x1000
by Saphfire Brown / The Dartmouth

The Counseling Center and the Student Wellness Center will again collaborate to facilitate the Student Support Network program, which was first implemented in 2017. Applications are currently open to undergraduate and graduate students for the spring session. 

According to S​​tefanie Jordão, a counselor and co-facilitator for SSN, the four-week program’s curriculum combines practicing conversations a student might have with a peer in crisis with didactic sessions. Jordão added that the Centers try to offer the program at least twice each year, as they did last year.

“What we go over with them during the training is an opportunity to be able to identify the warning signs of a friend who might be in crisis, stress [or] struggling in some way with their mental health,” Jordão said.

Jordão added that training sessions will cover empathy and support, as well as effective communication skills for these conversations. 

According to SWC wellbeing program coordinator and SSN co-facilitator Sid Babla, the program will have an increased focus on mindfulness during the spring session. 

“Something that we’ll start doing in spring term onwards is introduc[ing] certain micro-practices of mindfulness [and] body-mind techniques of how one can be centered while listening to another person,” he said. “That sense of presence of being there for another person starts with your own sense of being present.” 

Also new this spring will be SSN’s return to in-person sessions. Trainings were previously offered last spring over Zoom. Babla says this switch back to the in-person program will help participants practice with real non-verbal cues and build a stronger community among the support network. 

“The fact that [participants will] get together on a routine basis — they have a meal together at the end of each training and they sort of share time getting to know one another as well — also makes them feel that ‘Hey, I’m not the only one who cares about other students. There’s so many of us,’” Babla said. “I think that sense of belonging and connectedness is fostered best in person.”

In addition to the benefits of operating the program in-person, SSN sessions are part of the response to mental health challenges raised by the pandemic, according to SWC director Caitlin Barthelmes.

“Coming off the pandemic … it is another moment in history in which wellbeing and mental health can take a forefront in the conversations, and so I anticipate that to be continued here at Dartmouth and beyond,” she said.

According to Barthelmes, part of what makes SSN unique to other mental wellness programs offered across campus is its focus on peer-to-peer support. 

“We know from national and local data that students often will turn to their friends and peers,” Barthelmes said. “Because students are often on the frontlines of responding to the emotional and mental health concerns of other students, we were excited about providing an evidence-based program that helps give them the skills of effective support and how to make referrals when appropriate.”

Jordão and Babla, who co-facilitate the program along with Dick’s House counselor Isabella Schiro, said that they balance training for this kind of one-on-one support with information on when students can refer peers to other resources on campus. 

“One of the things that we emphasize is that we don’t expect participants to provide therapy,” Jordão said. “What we hope is that they can serve as that point of support and kind of a warm handoff — someone that can come and have a compassionate space to be there, [be] present with them and to support them in getting connected.”

SSN originated as a collaborative effort between the Counseling Center and the SWC to expand the Counseling Center’s Dartmouth Cares initiative, which aims to target suicide prevention and crisis intervention on campus.

According to Barthelmes, Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s counseling center originally developed the model used by SSN. The model is listed in the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s best practice registry and aligns with the JED Foundation’s Campus Model recommendations, including promoting social connectedness, developing life skills, identifying students at risk and increasing help-seeking behavior. According to Barthelmes, demand has recently increased for programs like SSN that provide training in crisis prevention.

“Even over the course of the last few years, at Dartmouth and nationally, the importance of addressing mental health concerns and promoting positive supportive behaviors both internally and interpersonally has become more and more of an interest and priority,” she said.

Before SSN was launched, the Counseling Center offered the Campus Connect Suicide Prevention Training program, which they continue to teach as one-time sessions available to students, staff and faculty, according to Jordão. Similar to SSN, Campus Connect aims to train students to support their peers in times of mental health crises. According to Jordão, these sessions intend to cover warning signs that someone may be considering suicide, what language to use, how to support someone through a time of crisis and how to properly refer them to get access to the appropriate mental health resources. 

“We are all part of this community. We each play such an important and significant role in helping one another and supporting one another and each other’s mental health and wellness,” Jordão said. “I like to look at it as if we’re all like a piece of the puzzle. To be able to come together and be united — we all have such an important part.”

This spring, SSN sessions will be held on Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on April 12, April 19, April 26 and May 3. Upcoming Campus Connect sessions for students include Jan. 26 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Feb. 22 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. For staff and faculty there will be sessions on Jan. 19 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Feb. 8 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The registration form for these sessions is accessible through the Dartmouth Cares website.

Students interested in counseling can schedule appointments either on the phone at 603-646-9442, at the counseling office at 7 Rope Ferry Road, Dick’s House 2nd floor or through their health service portal. In the case of an immediate crisis, students can call the Uhelp Crisis Line at 833-646-1526, the New Hampshire Rapid Response Access Point at 833-710-6477 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. 

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!