Counseling and Psychological Services launched its Peer Support Warmline, a non-urgent text option for UR students to discuss mental health concerns with a peer, on Jan. 28, according to the CAPS website.
The Warmline is operating Thursday through Monday from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. During these hours, a chat box inviting students to "Chat with a Peer Support Specialist" pops up on the CAPS Resources page.
Senior Anna Cheng is a CAPS intern and has been a part of efforts to provide peer support to UR students since fall 2020. The goal of the Warmline is to provide individualized mental health counseling to UR students, Cheng said.
“[CAPS] wanted this to be a really unique resource for students, because otherwise, we don't have any sort of formalized peer support structure on campus,” Cheng said.
Cheng said the Warmline provided students with both empathetic support and connections to other campus resources. The Warmline is not meant to provide crisis support because of the fact that the Warmline does not operate 24/7, but operators are able to assist users in any situation, including crises, Cheng said.
Research has shown that people who are suffering from a mental health concern tend to reach out to a peer before a professional, Cheng said. Studies have also shown that a timely response to a mental health crisis is one of the most important factors in the de-escalation of that crisis, she said. Cheng hopes the Warmline can implement both of these findings, therefore providing students with the best support possible, she said.
Like Cheng, junior and CAPS intern Jenifer Yi also provides peer support resources. She saw the Warmline as a unique resource for UR students since it was offered outside of typical working hours.
The Warmline provides support for people after hours when they don't have as many resources available to them for support, Yi said.
Assistant Director of Clinical Services Kristen Day began considering the creation of the Warmline in 2018 with the help of CAPS outreach interns, she said. Day realized there was a campus-wide need both for mental health support after working hours and for CAPS interns to gain experience in providing mental health support, she said.
“I think most people are don't necessarily come to CAPS first if they need help," Day said. "They're going to go to a friend or a family member. So, trying to solidify and really substantiate that peer-to-peer support system and network that we have here at the University of Richmond [is important].”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people had been experiencing feelings of loneliness due to physical distancing and isolation, Day pointed out. In order to combat this, students currently in isolation and quarantine can use the Warmline to assist in these struggles, she said.
Cheng likewise noted the role the Warmline could play in helping students combat mental health concerns that arose because of the pandemic. Feelings of loneliness due to isolation are not the only mental health concern, she said. Many people may also be feeling anxiety surrounding their personal health and the well-being of loved ones, Cheng said.
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“I think the Warmline comes at a really helpful time," Cheng said, "because our support specialists are trained to provide empathetic support, address that loneliness and de-escalate the anxiety."
Yi believes the Warmline could be helpful in combating feelings of loneliness even after the pandemic ends, she said. Social isolation has been prevalent on campus even before the pandemic, she said, and the Warmline could provide a way for those experiencing this to find the support of a peer.
“Using the Warmline, people can be vulnerable and express their emotions or their true feelings with someone, even if they personally don't have anyone around them that they can actually express their feelings to,” Yi said.
The Warmline is a resource for students to discuss all mental health issues, regardless of severity. No mental health issue is too small or too large to be brought to the Warmline, Day said.
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