Starting the conversation about mental health at university is more important than ever. RGU Peer Support Group offers confidential and non-judgemental listening services to all students. To mark University Mental Health Day on the 3rd of March, Erin Allan – LLB (Hons) Law student – and Beki Roberts – BA (Hons) Applied Social Sciences student – tell us more about the support group and the importance of speaking up about mental health issues.
Can you tell us more about RGU Peer Support Group?
Erin: Peer Support Group was founded in 2019. The forefront of the idea was established by Adam Johnston, who used to be the President of Education & Welfare at RGU Union. I got involved in March time of the same year and since then we’ve established as RGU Peer Support Group.
There are quite a few different services that we can provide. Firstly, and the most significant one, is our one to one interactions with trained volunteers. All our peer supporters who can hold these sessions have gone through 30 hours of mandatory training. The conversation could be about anything that is on a student’s mind, and stays confidential.
We also hold a variety of events throughout the year. University Mental Health Day on the 3rd of March is probably the most significant event that we do because it is also Peer Support’s birthday.
RGU Peer Support Group is there to offer a safe space for students to open up, promote mental health awareness and reduce stigma. We can also act as a signposting service and put students in contact with people that could help them.
Beki: I think sometimes students don’t know where to go for help. A lot of students don’t know about the Inclusion Centre at RGU for example. I didn’t know before that they could actually help with mental health issues. So, we can signpost students to the centre if there is a need for it.
How is the training service provided for peer supporters?
Erin: Peer supporters complete their training with RGU’s counselling team. There are three hours of training every week over 10 weeks, which is a total of 30 hours. You learn about different topics like confidentiality, knowing how to deal with certain situations if it’s brought to you by a student and where to signpost people to. You can also learn about your own boundaries as well and not taking on too much that you wouldn’t be able to cope with.
Beki: I’ve actually just finished the training. I think you get a really close bond with the people that you do it with. It’s good to learn how you can help other students, and it makes you feel like a part of something as well.
What is University Mental Health Day and why is it important to promote it?
Erin: I think one of the most important things about University Mental Health Day is to get the conversation started. I would say there’s quite a lot of anxiety for students right now with the last couple of years that we’ve had. This is why I think now more than ever these days are so significant. I think sometimes as students we can feel like we’ve been forgotten by society. And this is where the importance of University Mental Health Day comes from. Even if it’s worldwide, it is specifically tailored to students.
Whatever course you’re doing, it’s a day that we can celebrate our mental health and spread some positivity. Because it is a tough world out there for students. When you’re at university, you have deadlines coming faster than you can even imagine. You also have the social aspect where you feel that you have to fit in and that you have to make new friends. I remember in second year, my own mental health was suffering. And I don’t remember having these awareness days back then. But now Peer Support is here to help students.
It’s okay to lean on the Counselling and Wellbeing Centre and it’s okay to come to us for support. It’s okay to put your hands up and say “I’m not coping”.Erin Allan
The day is above all an opportunity to incorporate a little bit of fun. Instead of mental health being something that you have to sit down and talk about, we try to organise some activities. I spoke quite a lot about students, but that’s not the only people that we’re focusing on. It’s also the lecturers and the staff within RGU that will hopefully come along, have a look around and get involved in some of the activities.
What are some of the main events that you’ve organised in the past for important campaigns?
Beki: Our most recent one was Time to Talk. We made it quite informal and shared some tea, coffee and biscuits. Some people came in to get things off their chest through our anonymous worry box. Some others were interested in volunteering. This was a massive surge in our applications coming in. So that was a really successful event.
Erin: Another significant and very successful event that we did was for World Mental Health Day in October. We held a big fayre out in Inverurie in the town hall. We invited members of the community and worked alongside other charities. There was Talkable, Y Suffer in Silence, Home-Start and Dementia Scotland, just to name a few. We had bouncy castles, teas and coffees while also running stalls. As a result, we managed to raise a significant amount of money.
Something else that’s quite important to us is Anti-Bullying Week. We organise an event every year, though the last few years have been online. And of course, there is Men’s Mental Health Month in November as well. Obviously, we can’t do events for every single awareness day because we would be doing events nonstop! But we put a few in there every year, which can change depending on the committee.
Beki: We also share a lot of self-help tips on our social media or share positive quotes and affirmations. It makes people feel like they’re not alone. Because we can’t always do stuff in person having those interactions can help a little and remind people that we are here to help.
Can you share tips and advice for students struggling with mental health?
Beki: If they are suffering from exam stress, my main advice would be to write stuff down. Having a planner or some sort of diary will help. It won’t take all the stress away, but seeing things written down makes your tasks seem more manageable.
Reach out to someone even if it feels really hard. It doesn’t have to be your lecturer, you can just speak to a friend. With university, the most important thing is to find that good balance and take some time for yourself in the day.Beki Roberts
Erin: Looking after yourself would definitely be my biggest tip. Whether that’s sitting with a book, having a bath, doing some journaling, or going for a walk in nature. Sometimes I’ll also go on Instagram and have a look at positive affirmations. That can bring some positivity and take your mind off things.
Find something that you enjoy and spend time doing it. I think sometimes students think they can’t make time for their hobbies. But it’s actually more beneficial for you in the long run to take a break. If you spend some time off to recharge your batteries you will get back to your work feeling more refreshed.
Beki: Also, sometimes you feel like you’ve done nothing all week, and you feel low. But if you actually sit down and write a list of everything you’ve done, then you can look at it and realise “I’ve achieved this, this and this”. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Even if it’s just getting out of bed or showering, these are still achievements.
Erin: Having a shower to one person is trivial, but to someone else that is such an important thing that they’ve done that day. Something that I do is I take a photo every single day. It could be a photo of me cooking a meal or working at my workstation. And then at the end of the month, I print off all these photos and reflect on what I’ve done in the last couple of weeks. It definitely helps.
You need to focus on the small things that you do because small things make big plans.Erin Allan
What would you say to students who may be afraid of joining the group?
Erin: I would say to them that joining RGU Peer Support was the best thing I ever did. It absolutely enhanced my university experience. For those that are looking to volunteer, I would absolutely say get in touch with us. It’s not a daunting experience. And for those who are looking to reach out for support, we are students ourselves so it’s like talking to a friend. We’re not getting paid to do it, we’re doing it because we genuinely care.
Sending that first message will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but also the most rewarding. After that, we will be there to help and guide you.Erin Allan
Beki: For volunteering, if people worry about how much time they’re going to have to give away, it’s really up to them. Prioritise your studies over us. It’s just nice to feel part of something that can help your mental health while advocating for something you care about. And for people that want advice and support, we’re just really nice and friendly. Our approach can be a bit more informal if you want to.
Erin: When we meet one to one, it could be in a quiet room where we just have a chat. We can also meet for coffee or have a walk around campus. The sessions are an opportunity to discuss anything that’s on your mind. It could be loneliness, homesickness, anxiety, stress or anything that’s bothering you.
How can students reach out to you for help?
The best way to get in contact would be to email Peer Support on the RGU Union website. From there, you’ll be able to book a session. The content of your email stays confidential and only two of our members have access to the account. You can also reach us on our TikTok, Instagram or Facebook accounts. You can send us direct messages and our PR and Marketing Coordinator will get back to you.