Students offer a new approach for mental health counseling on campus

A new student group aimed at providing peer support to students with mental health issues on campus will launch at USC before the end of October, the group's founder Armand Amini said today.

TrojanSupport is a student-led peer-to-peer support system that is meant to be "a supplement to professional help…something that bridges the gap between students seeking professional help and not really seeking anything at all," Amini said.

Amini, a third year pre-med student majoring in neuroscience, began the initiative after discovering that his first friend on campus suffered from insomnia and depression but was afraid to ask for help. Along with the help of his mentors at the Keck School of Medicine, Amini recruited a board of 15 volunteer counselors to spearhead TrojanSupport.

Throughout the recruitment process, Amini and his mentors were looking for potential counseling volunteers who were both socially and emotionally intelligent as well as genuine and approachable.

Marketing Director of TrojanSupport, Basini Doshi, said she hopes to help tear down the stigmas associated with mental health issues. "We've all had experiences or relationships in our life that we really care about [and] have struggled because of the stigma associated with finding mental health care."

According to Amini, USC Student Health funded a trip for the TrojanSupport's executive board to learn more about the peer-counseling program at their school and and to get better ideas of how could they organize their own training at USC in the future. Volunteer counselors later received a week of training at USC on recognizing and handling issues such as anxiety and academic stress, interpersonal conflicts and suicidal ideation and prevention.

With the help of USC Student Health and Amini's mentors, TrojanSupport was able to adapt Washington University's training and orientation programs for their volunteer counselors.

Annenberg Media reached out to the Engemann Student Health Center, the Engemann is not available to comment today.

While peer programs like TrojanSupport do not qualify as mental health care, Sarah Van Orman, USC's Associate Vice Provost for Student Health, said in a USC News article that she believes these programs are important because they increase help-seeking behaviors and feelings of connectedness among students on campus.

Some USC students were skeptical about TrojanSupport's peer-to-peer counseling program.

"USC has a lot of really interesting and helpful programs for student health that people don't know about… [so] my initial thoughts on the success of [TrojanSupport] hinges on the marketing," said Conor Murray, a senior in the Business in Cinematic Arts Program. Murray is skeptical, however, about having students run the program and finds the idea of talking to another college senior — or even a counselor who is younger than him — off-putting.

"I think it's a great idea in concept, but I definitely don't think it's a sufficient solution," said Tess Bronfman, a junior studying cognitive science and systems programming. "I just don't think that students […] have the proper support systems or background information to deal with these types of issues."

Amini said he agrees that TrojanSupport is not in and of itself sufficient to replace professional help, but hopes that TrojanSupport will provide struggling students with a place "they can be heard and [can] genuinely go to a fellow student when they are in need."

Correction: in a previous version of this story, we said TrojanSupport received a week of training at WashU. The TrojanSupport received the training at USC.