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The importance of peer support groups for student wellbeing

The importance of peer support groups for student wellbeing

Happiest Health looks at the benefits of having a strong peer support group and how to be that supportive peer
Representational image | Shutterstock

Apart from taking care of scores and submissions, students are now realising the importance of tending to their emotional and mental well-being as well which extends beyond hanging out with their study buddies. Although universities are designed to exact the best performance from students, they often miss out on catering to their emotional needs. Despite clubs and associations, many students do not have access to safe and non-judgemental spaces.

“Academic rigour at educational institutions should not be based on competition alone, instead have avenues for creative spaces such as college clubs for the youth to engage, share and vent,” says Goa-based academician and counselling psychologist Dr Kshipra Vora.

Peers as well-being warriors

Peer support is a blanket term used for varied interventions like peer social groups, mentoring, active listening, buddy system, and others that are beneficial to the mental well-being of students. Highlighting the need for such groups, Bengaluru-based social work academician from St. Joseph’s College, Dr S. Rama Gokula Krishnan, says, “It must be kept in mind that students walk into colleges from different parts of the country, are away from their parents and friends. This lack of support structure at a foreign land can ring in loneliness.”

Even though counsellors are there in schools and colleges, students are not comfortable sharing issues with them on a one-on-one basis, says counselling psychologist Arva Dilavar. “They’d rather prefer sharing with friends. And, this is where peer support comes in. Their need of being heard is fulfilled,” Dilavar adds.

On how to be an emotionally supportive peer

The benefits of being that emotionally available and supportive peer help students openly talk about their issues and openly accept suggestions on how to cope with certain situations. Neha Cadabam, a psychologist in Bengaluru, lists out a few simple and effective ways to be an emotionally supportive peer. “Asking your peers regularly whether they are doing fine can go a long way in helping someone open up. They should also try to identify any changes in a student’s behavioural patterns that may be a red flag indicating emotional distress.”

College students should be acquainted with emotional first-aid training so that they can help each other get through an emotionally draining period (Especially during examinations or project/thesis submissions). “This first-aid training will help them not only know what to say and what to do but also what not to say and do,” says Cadabam.

Benefits of peer support groups

  • Peer support groups are essential for the youth, especially for students who are not good at sharing and expressing their emotions with teachers and parents.
  • They serve as an emotional backbone for students at schools and colleges by providing them with rich lived experiences of their peers.
  • Such groups tend to serve as invaluable assets, acting as an informal support system for the youth and ensuring their holistic mental well-being.
  • Peers play an excellent role in guiding and suggesting from their own individual experiences about ways of coping.
  • They are also not viewed as a person from another generation who may not be able to relate to the problem. And because of this peer support is received better by students.
  • Peer support can be introduced formally as peer support groups. This helps break the stigma about opening up about the issues and challenges that peers of similar age groups go through.
  • Helps initiate strong mentor and mentee relationships because of the age group.

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