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Sunday, December 05, 2021

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Counseling and Psychological Services warmline thriving among students

<p>The entrance to the new CAPS office in the Well Being Center.</p>

The entrance to the new CAPS office in the Well Being Center.

In its second semester of operation, the Counseling and Psychological Services Peer Support Warmline is thriving as a means for University of Richmond students to express mental health concerns, connect with a peer or vent about issues they might be facing, Kristen Day, assistant director of clinical services, said.

“Rarely does someone come to CAPS first,” Day said. “Usually it's a friend, family member or adviser. So, we wanted to build a base of support through peer-to-peer interaction.”

The warmline, a non-urgent text option for UR students who want to discuss mental health concerns with a trained peer, began operating in spring 2021, according to the CAPS website. It operates seven days a week from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. via the green support widget on the CAPS website. 

Day said she had first proposed the idea in 2018 to provide UR students with a direct mental health service that would have been absent otherwise.

UR students can anonymously text the warmline about issues that might be impacting their mental, physical, emotional and academic wellbeing; relationship issues; stress management and more, Day said. 

She described it as a non-urgent, preventative option that attempts to connect with students to hopefully offset crises. 

“[Students] can text in about really anything on their mind that they just either want to vent about, problem solve, explore; or if they just need some empathy and someone to listen,” Day said. “Any and everything is relevant, and we want to hold the space for every student.” 

The warmline currently employs 36 interns from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, according to the CAPS website. Day said the warmline is thriving as a result of the interns’ dedication and training. 

Jenifer Yi, a senior CAPS intern who has experience in crisis counseling, emphasized that students should understand there would be no negative impact associated with texting the warmline. 

There has even been a large increase in the number of students who have texted the warmline this year, she said.

This semester, interns have helped many students who have felt isolation and loneliness on campus as the pandemic continues, Yi said. Other texts have expressed concerns and comments about fitting in, she said.

“There are so many different types of people on campus who [students] might not exactly fit in with and on the surface level we see homogenous groups of people,” Yi said. “[Students] are like, ‘I don't really know how I can fit into this or how my personality matches with the people on campus.’ It’s really hard to find your people when a lot of our campus culture is kind of just getting assimilated into one same culture.”

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The warmline can provide students who are feeling this way with peer-to-peer contact and help them gain the confidence to meet new people and explore UR, Yi said.  

“It’s weirdly comforting to talk to a peer, and some people really just have no one to talk to and they just need that reassurance that there are actually people on campus that will talk to you like a friend and there are people there to support you, that care about you, even if they don't really know you personally,” Yi said. 

Senior CAPS Intern Alison Zhang said it was important to eliminate stigmas associated with opening up about mental health concerns. She encouraged international students, who often face these stigmas, to use the warmline for potentially sensitive conversations about struggles, concerns or adjustment issues. 

Zhang reiterated that UR students did not have to be in crisis or face a mental health concern to use the warmline. Any student who wants to talk to someone should never hesitate to reach out, she said. 

“We are here to offer a really open ear, empathetic advice and empathetic support,” Zhang said. “So never hesitate when you’re struggling with anything. We’re just always here for you.” 

Contact features writer Michelle Parente at michelle.parente@richmond.edu.

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