Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Garrett Lee Smith Campus

A comprehensive approach to supporting at-risk students can only reach its potential in the context of an entire community of individuals at all levels committed to the well-being of each and every member. The Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Student Development and Counseling Center (SDCC) coordinates a campus-based approach involving all levels of the community in efforts to recognize and respond effectively to students in distress. One of the highlights of WPI’s comprehensive prevention program has been a unique and innovative peer training program developed by the SDCC that is called the Student Support Network (SSN). This six-week training has improved the network of student support on campus by empowering student leaders with critical knowledge, skills, and perspectives which help them identify and reach out to friends in distress and help those friends access available care. Over 250 student leaders have been trained in the SSN model in the past four years.

WPI will significantly expand and evolve the SSN training model to incorporate stigma reduction elements drawn from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In addition to the ongoing general peer training, the SSN training series will be implemented for key faculty and staff and will seek to actively recruit students who are known to underutilize mental health services, including international students, underrepresented students, and graduate students. Also, WPI will seek to develop and deploy population-based messaging aimed at mental health stigma reduction based on key core concepts identified in the ACT model. The SSN training model could be a valuable addition to suicide prevention efforts nationally. WPI continues to make the model available to others by listing it on the Suicide Prevention Resource Center Best Practices Registry, and the university will provide training and implementation consultation to interested campuses.

Much of our grant-funded work has been dedicated to developing and evolving the SSN model. SSN is very different from other peer-oriented programs in that it assumes that there are pre-existing support networks on college campuses, and it attempts to identify, engage, and support those networks. The content of the six-week training series is, in our opinion, less important than the process of forming supportive connections within these networks. With these connections, key individuals within these networks are better supported in their efforts to help others and more likely to recognize and respond to individuals who would benefit from being connected to professional local and area mental health supports.