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Peer Counseling in College Mental Health

From October 6 to 20, 2021, Born This Way Foundation, in partnership with the Mary Christie Institute, conducted a survey of over 2,000 American college students on their attitudes toward, and participation in, mental health peer counseling, which is defined as “receiving support for your mental health from a trained peer, not a friend.” This survey showed usage of peer counseling is higher among Black, Transgender, and first-generation college students, while interest in peer support programs has increased overall since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Key findings:

  • College students need peer counseling, and have demonstrated clear interest in having it available on campus. One in five college students already use peer counseling (20%); of the 80% who have not used it, 62% say they would be interested in doing so. The most common reasons for seeking peer counseling are stress, anxiety, depression, social life issues, and loneliness.
  • Culturally-competent peer counseling is important. Usage of peer counseling is higher among Black students (39%), Transgender students (39%), and first-generation students (29%), who are particularly likely to say it is “very important” to find a peer counselor with similar identities.
  • College students want to be there for each other and benefit from providing peer support. Nearly half 45% of students who provide peer counseling report “helping others” as their main motivation. Those who provide peer counseling are more likely to score higher on a well-being scale than those who do not provide peer counseling.
  • College students prefer to turn to each other. Two-thirds of students surveyed say they have faced a mental health challenge in the past year. 36% reported that if faced with a serious mental health issue, they would turn to a friend or romantic partner first.
  • Interest in peer counseling has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly half (48%) of students say the disruption caused by the pandemic made them more likely to seek out peer counseling, including 20% who say it has made them “much more likely.”  This is particularly true for Black students (58% “likely”), Latinx students (54% “likely”), Transgender students (61% “likely”), and first-generation college students (54% “likely”).

Click here to download the report or find the report here: