Preethi Periyakoil (BS ’18)
This pandemic has changed our lives and will likely leave scars. Our current inability to do the many small things that we used to take for granted, such as seeing our loved ones, going to class, or taking our friends out to dinner, is not something we will forget easily. College students in particular have had their college experience completely disrupted—virtual learning provides all of the work and none of the fun of college. To add insult to injury, students cannot easily collaborate when they are not physically together, which makes their learning experience even more difficult. The effect that the pandemic has already had on their mental health is profound from what I have seen, and such scars will persist if they do not have adequate emotional support.
Over the past few months, I have been developing the technical platform for Student Counsel, which is a peer support text line for college students. With a topic as heavy and sensitive as mental health, confidentiality and security are the top priority—we want to ensure that the students using our text line will be safely reassured that the personal information that they choose to share with us remains private. For this reason, we have chosen to build our platform using a service that is HIPAA-compliant and secure and encrypted. We also understand that students may choose to contact our service using a variety of platforms, including texting, Facebook, or even WhatsApp (for those who prefer that service), and we are working on making our platform compatible with all three of those services, with the potential to add more as they come up. We aim to have the technical platform up and running by this fall.
Concurrently, we are working on developing the training curriculum that will be used to teach the student counselors who will be providing emotional support to their peers. Based on preliminary work (informal interviews of students from a few schools), we have determined that stories of real struggles that people have gone through as students, what was going through their minds when they were at their lowest points, and how they overcame them would be most effective tools to be incorporated into the curriculum. The experience of actually hearing other human being’s stories and having them explain what they were going through at the most painful times of their lives was incredibly moving and powerful. Such stories will really help our counselors empathize with our texters.
Finally, I am proud to announce that Student Counsel is officially a tax-exempt nonprofit organization—in other words, our 501c3 application was approved! We are now an official nonprofit, and I couldn’t be happier. I am also actively seeking funding and submitted an application to help us fund a mental health counselor (part-time) to help us train the counselors and serve as a guide to them on an ongoing basis. We are more fired up than ever to get our platform up and running and would appreciate any and all support and ideas from the Caltech community, past and present!