Students offer a shoulder to peers under pressure

July 4, 2003

Oxford University uses student counsellors as part of an innovative peer-support programme to identify those suffering from depression and encourage them to seek help, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Elsa Bell, head of the university's counselling service that devised the scheme, said: "Students always turn to other students before anyone in an official role."

Ms Bell's team of counsellors gives students 30 hours of counselling training, concentrating on basic skills such as listening.

These students can then advertise their services as peer supporters within their colleges.

They have regular supervision from members of the university counselling service.

"Sometimes this peer support is done in a very informal way. It may be just an email and a chat over a drink," Ms Bell said.

The scheme has spread across the university, with 21 colleges taking part.

Ms Bell feels the presence of a strong student-counselling service makes an important statement about the nature of mental health problems.

"It states thatthe university believes these problems can be tolerated and worked with within the context of normal academic activities," she said.

"It states that the university recognises that thinking and feeling do not need to be split in order for academic success to be achieved."

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