When it comes to mental health, peer support is a growing field that includes mental health hotlines, text lines and apps, short-term coaching and more. Peer support programs can help lighten the load on campus counseling centers while also reaching students who might not otherwise seek assistance. A recent survey showed that one in five college students received a form of peer support in the past year with rates of use even higher among first-generation, Black and LGBTQ students.

The Middle Earth Peer Educators at SUNY Albany are a model program in existence since 1970. Their hotline is staffed by 60 student volunteers who handle an average of five calls each day, equaling approximately 1,000 calls annually. They receive $78,000 in funding from the Student Association while Student Affairs pays the director’s salary and other staffing costs plus provides office space and back up clinicians on weekends. Two endowments are also alumni funded.

Peer support programs carry risks, however, reported The Chronicle of Higher Education. Training is critical to mitigate risks so student volunteers can recognize when peers need professional help or when they themselves need to take a break, said Zoe Ragouzeos, president of the Mary Christie Institute and executive director of counseling and wellness services at New York University. Peer programs can also be expensive, may carry liability risks and can add strain to counseling staff if no new hires are in the mix. And student volunteers may be struggling with their own mental and emotional well-being needs.

Read more about peer support programs here.