Preethi Periyakoil (BS ’18)
It seems fitting that this Chang Prize update fall in the month of September, which is widely recognized as Suicide Prevention Month. Over the past three years, as I have had the invaluable opportunity to serve as a crisis counselor both at San Francisco Suicide Prevention and Crisis Text Line, which have taught me the value of simple kindness and non-judgmental support in a saving a person’s life. There have been instances when a texter or caller was ready to take their life, and what it took to bring them off that ledge was active listening, empathy, and helping them realize that they had someone in that very moment to support them. It would be reductive to say that kindness is the answer to preventing every single suicide, but I truly believe that empathy, kindness, and listening can help people feel less alone in those dark moments. It is exactly for this reason that we founded Student Counsel, a peer support text line for students.
Over the past couple of months, we have been developing the technical platform for Student Counsel. We have chosen a secure platform that is encrypted and HIPAA-compliant so that our texters’ privacy is protected, and using our service, students will have the ability to be able to contact us through SMS, Facebook, and WhatsApp. We are also in the process of writing learning modules for our counselors, which will include implicit bias training, culturally sensitive discourse training, and videos of true stories told by people who have undergone depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. We hope that by hearing about firsthand experiences, our Student Counselors will learn to listen actively and non-judgmentally and we hope that with implicit bias training, that they will be able to acknowledge and overcome their own biases and provide respectful support for any texter regardless of background. Our team is working tirelessly, and we hope that the training modules and the technical platform will be ready by the end of this calendar year.
Next, I am pleased to report that we will be presenting the Student Counsel platform as an oral presentation at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in October 2021. The mental health epidemic is a monster all on its own, and mental health struggles have only been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced us into social isolation and in some cases, serious mental illnesses. We hope to raise awareness of the profound suffering that many students undergo during college and to have a prototype of the technical platform ready by the time of the conference to demo. We are currently also collecting responses on this survey in order to better understand what potential users of Student Counsel hope to see on the virtual platform and to help aid our platform design and our training modules. Please help us out by filling out this form and sending it to your friends/family! If you are interested in helping us build Student Counsel or serving as a potential counselor, please feel free to submit your email at the end of the form, and we will reach out to you about how you can be involved in Student Counsel. I look forward to incorporating the wisdom of the Caltech Alumni community into Student Counsel.
Finally, I am incredibly grateful to the Caltech Alumni Association for giving me the opportunity to launch Student Counsel. While I knew this idea would not become a reality overnight, none of our work would have been possible without the generosity of the Caltech Alumni Association. Caltech is where I pursued my passion for computer science and medicine, and I feel lucky to be working with my alma mater and hopefully give back to future students through Student Counsel.