Peer Support 101: Empowering college students to support each other with free mental health training

Peer Support 101: Empowering college students to support each other with free mental health training

Posted on 15 August 2022
by Obi Felten, Founder & CEO (originally on the Flourish Labs blog)

We are now offering ‘Peer Support 101’ training for college students, a 20-hour virtual course to learn valuable mental health peer support skills which can lead to a part-time job as a Certified Peer Supporter. Our first course is starting August 29th, and we are offering 150 scholarships, so sign up today!

Why we’re launching our peer support training and network

At Flourish Labs, we’re on a mission to bring accessible, affordable mental health support to everyone who needs it by empowering people to support each other. We’re in the midst of a student mental health crisis. Over 40% of college students have mental health challenges, according to the Healthy Minds Study. College counseling centers are struggling to keep up with demand

We believe that peer support is an effective, yet under-utilized solution to this crisis. Peer supporters use their own lived experience of mental health challenges to help others. Studies have shown that peer support not only benefits the student being supported, but also helps the supporter maintain good mental health. In other words, it’s mutual. A recent survey found that 20% of students already have experienced peer support, and another 50% want to try it. On many campuses, students are self-organizing to provide informal peer support to each other, with little or no training.

Unfortunately, as with other mental health professions, there aren’t enough trained and qualified peer supporters to meet the need. Mental Health America estimates that only about 24,000 people work as Certified Peer Support Specialists in the US today. 

Our ambition is to grow this workforce by training students in peer support skills, such as active listening, building rapport, strengths, self-care, coping strategies and safety. We’ll then offer students a part-time job as Certified Peer Supporters in our peer support network launching later this fall. Students who want support will be able to find Certified Peer Supporters who match their needs, and book support sessions via our digital platform.

We’re not alone

This effort will take a village, not just a technology startup such as Flourish Labs, so we’re partnering with nonprofits and colleges to bring the peer supporter training and job opportunity to students. We’re working closely with two leading nonprofits in the youth peer space. Youth Era, a peer-led organization based in Oregon who have deep experience in training youth peer supporters, is our training partner. We’ve been designing our program with Active Minds, the largest nationwide network of student mental health volunteers with chapters on over 600 college campuses.

We’re also working with student groups, career centers, psychology departments and innovation groups at Northeastern University, University of St Thomas Houston, Western Governors University, Arizona State University and University of Oregon to bring this opportunity to their community. (Read this blogpost on why WGU chose to partner with us.) We’re always looking for more college partners, especially community colleges and others with diverse student populations. So if you are interested in offering peer supporter training, paid work experience and meaningful part-time jobs to your students, please get in touch.

Sign up for ‘Peer Support 101’ training, starting August 29th

Our ‘Peer Support 101’ training is a 20-hour live, virtual course designed and delivered in partnership with Youth Era. It is based on Youth Era’s proven Uplift program, and adapted for college students.  

You can learn more about the training and sign up here: https://flourishlabs.net/peersupportertraining/

Register by August 22nd to join the training starting August 29th, or get priority access for future courses if you can’t make this one.

We are offering 150 scholarships so students can participate in the training free of charge (worth $475 each). If you complete the course and pass the assessment at the end, you will receive a digital certificate that you can display on your LinkedIn or Handshake profile – and a $75 gift voucher!

As with all our projects, we’re designing our training with students, for students. This first cohort will be a beta test and we’ll evolve it over time.

We hope to see you at our first training!

Image: Nathan Blanken and fellow University of Maryland students at Active Minds event in October 2021. Photo by Kevin Carney

The håp signal: An easier way to reach out and get support from your friends when you need it

The håp signal: An easier way to reach out and get support from your friends when you need it

Posted on 16 June 2022
by Anastasia Zorlas, Product & UX Research Intern 

Today we’re launching the håp signal, a new feature in the håp app that makes it easier to reach out and get support from your friends when you need it. In this post, our intern Anastasia Zorlas explains the idea behind the håp signal and how we worked with students to design it.

My personal journey with mental health started in my senior year of high school. When I first experienced my mental wellness declining, I became very isolated from my support system – to the point where I kept all of my emotions inside and made sure that everyone I cared about stayed out. At the time, I was scared to bring up how poor my mental state was because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. When I started college, I was lucky to meet people who understood what I was going through and helped me to find the right support. 

Now I’m a fourth-year entrepreneurship and computer science student at Northeastern University. In January I moved to San Francisco for a semester to learn more about startups. I met Obi Felten, who had left Google X to start her company Flourish Labs, focusing on the student mental health crisis.  I was drawn to Obi’s vision of ‘flourishing minds for all’ and her willingness to ask for help from students and people with lived experience of mental health challenges to ensure that the products Flourish Labs makes are what we need and want. I joined her as an intern, excited about the opportunity to make change for students who are struggling with their mental health and might not be as lucky as I’ve been in finding support.

There have been significant strides in the past few years to reduce the social stigma of seeking help if you experience mental health challenges. Yet there are still so many people who are not getting the support they need, when they need it.

Over the past few months, we have been working with groups of students from Northeastern University and our partner Active Minds to evolve the håp app. håp started out last September as a self-tracking app, helping you understand the ups and downs of your mind. It also offered quick access to crisis counsellors from Crisis Text Line

But sometimes you’re not in crisis, you just want someone to talk to. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to reach out to a friend or family member for help when I’m feeling low. Who do I contact? What do I say to them?

In one of our design workshops with Northeastern students in the Bay Area, we discussed how difficult it can be to reach out for help exactly when you need it most.

We brainstormed ways to break down this barrier, and got inspired by the bat-signal beckoning Batman for help!

The first bat-signal
Image credit: DC Comics

Today we’re launching the håp signal, which makes it easier to reach out and get support from your friends when you need it. Here is how it works:

  1. In the support section of the håp app, you can invite your friends or family to be part of your support team. After they accept, they appear in your support team list. You can add or remove supporters at any time.
  2. You can customize the text message that håp sends out to your friends when you ask for support. 
  3. When you want support, all you need to do is tap the håp signal button in the app. håp sends a text message to each person on your support team with your message, asking them to get in touch with you. 
Crisis Text Line button
& håp signal button

Next time you are feeling down and want someone to talk to, send out a håp signal! 

The håp signal is not intended to replace crisis support. If you’re in a crisis and want an immediate response, please contact Crisis Text Line by texting HAP to 741741, or tap the Crisis Text Line button in the app.

How we designed the håp signal with students, for students

In my internship, I learnt a lot about the process from idea to product feature launching in the app. Here is how we did it:

Co-designing with Northeastern students

1. In our design workshop, we brainstormed how a bat-signal might manifest in the håp app.

Bat signal brainstorm

2. We created a storyboard of the user experience.

Bat signal storyboard

3. We drew flow diagrams and a paper prototype with screen wireframes made of giant Post-It notes.

Bat håp signal paper flow & wireframes

4. After the workshop, I worked with Nathan to transfer our paper designs into flows and wireframes in Figma, our user interface design tool. We discussed the flows and wireframes with our designer and our engineering team, and made some adjustments.

håp signal Figma flows & wireframes

4. Our designer Charles turned our wireframes into screen designs for our engineering team to implement.

5. After our engineers built the feature, we tested an internal build with a small group of testers to make sure it worked properly.

Today we’re releasing the app with the new håp signal feature to the public, and we can’t wait to get your feedback!

håp is now freely available to all students

håp was launched last September in a closed beta test with a few hundred trusted testers, mostly Active Minds members and Northeastern students. We are hugely grateful to our testers who gave us plenty of feedback on how to improve and evolve the app. 

Starting today, we are making the håp app freely available to any student over the age of 16 studying in the US. You just need an email address ending in .edu to sign into the app. As a håp user, you can invite friends and family to use håp with your personal referral link, even if they are not a student. Go to settings/refer a friend to share the app.

håp is still very much a work in progress. We welcome your feedback as we continue to design with students, for students. You can give feedback at any time by tapping the feedback button in the top right corner of the app, it looks like a speech bubble.

If you want to get more actively involved, we’ll be running more focus groups, online surveys and design workshops in the summer and fall. I’m staying on at Flourish Labs to do a coop placement for the rest of the year working on user experience research and product development, so look out for an invite from me to participate!

Coming soon: Peer supporter training in partnership with Youth Era

Starting this summer, Flourish Labs is partnering with Youth Era to offer peer support training for students. Youth Era is a nonprofit based in Eugene, Oregon who have been empowering teenagers and young adults with peer support for over a decade. Flourish Labs will be offering students the opportunity to work as a peer supporter during their studies after they successfully complete the training. We’re excited to bring peer support to more college students across the US.

Learn more at https://projecthap.com or download håp from the App Store or Google Play

If you already use håp, the app will prompt you to update to the new version of the app with the håp signal. To manually update, go to the App Store or Google Play and tap ‘update’.

Learn more about peer supporter training and sign up at https://projecthap.com/peertraining/

#mentalhealth #studentmentalhealth #livedexperience #peersupport #usercentereddesign #BuildInTheOpen