Preethi Periyakoil (BS ’18)
Over the past few months, I have experienced firsthand the kind of stress and isolation that the pandemic has created for students across the globe. While online learning creates the illusion of having more free time on our hands, having to complete schoolwork without the supportive community of our peers and professors is extremely isolating. Additionally, the structural racism and social injustice that has devastated our nation time and time again reared its ugly head yet again this year, added to this isolation a sense of hopelessness that things would ever get better. The toll that the events of 2020 have had on our mental health is a vicious cycle--we are completing all of our work online, which then brings our attention to the news, which causes further distress, and this cycle repeats.
I have seen many peers who suffer from depression and anxiety report that the isolation during the pandemic has caused their emotions to become unbearable. The lack of easy access to social support and to mental health professionals has also become more pronounced during the pandemic. Now, more than ever, the need for immediate social support for students became glaringly obvious to me, and I have become more inspired than ever to build an encrypted peer support text line, Student Counsel, to help my own peers and students all over the country feel that they do not have to feel alone.
As expected, the COVID pandemic has brought many operations in this country to a halt. I submitted an application for a 501c3 to create a tax-exempt nonprofit for this text line, but the IRS suspended many of their operations earlier this year. It was also suggested to me to partner with an existing nonprofit that has a similar mission statement to avoid having to wait for the IRS, but unfortunately, mental health is an area that many people are still uncomfortable with, and many people are understandably worried about liability. Fortunately, my application process with the IRS for nonprofit status for Student Counsel is complete and I am hopeful that I will receive a status update from the IRS very soon.
I have assembled a team to help me build the technical platform for my text line. In particular, our platform needs to be HIPAA-compliant, encrypted and easy to use. We are also developing a website for Student Counsel. Our beta version of the technical platform will be available for pilot testing by the end of this year. We realize that a service like Student Counsel could be incredibly useful during these trying times. We would also love to hear the insights that current and former members of the Caltech community might have about this idea, and how we can make it as helpful as possible for students everywhere. Please share your feedback via email!