When psychology major Tyler Tatton got an email about a new mental health program through Counseling & Psychological Services on campus, he had no idea that in two short years he would be a leader for the program.
“I originally found out about the program from one of my professors in the psychology department,” Tatton said. “He suggested that I should apply and I decided to go for it — becoming one of the program’s first five Mental Health Support Peers.”
The Support Peer Program was originally created by Andrea Donovan and other Mental Health Counselors at Southern Utah University after seeing students with mental health issues lacking support. While CAPS is a valuable resource, Donovan realized that some students are hesitant to begin counseling or only need help for a limited amount of time.
Support Peers are upperclassman psych majors trained by CAPS that are available to help students struggling with mental health, adjusting to student life or who just need someone to talk to. This free resource gives students a valuable, safe, peer-to-peer experience where talking to a licensed professional might feel overwhelming or scary.
Tatton felt so inspired by the MHSP program that he stayed with the program even after he received his undergraduate degree. His involvement with the program pushed him to apply for SUU’s Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology when the program launches in fall 2022.
“This position also gives me a different view of the MHSP program and new experiences and skills because I am in more of an administrative role than I was previously,” Tatton said.
The program has provided Tatton and other Support Peers valuable experiences to further themselves in their professional careers. Because of the steep educational requirements for counseling work, it is difficult to get relevant experience in the field.
The program has also helped many students across campus face the things that they struggle with most. The transition from high school to college, and living at home to living on one’s own, can cause emotional distress for many students.
“I have met with several students who have struggled with really missing home and with feeling a lot of anxiety,” Tatton said. “I typically teach them some grounding exercises to use when they are feeling anxious and talk with them about ways they could make friends to help them enjoy their time here more. Within a few weeks, they are usually doing great.”
Beyond homesickness and educational worries, students have also been struggling with COVID-related losses, depression and fear. Tatton explained that sometimes students simply need someone to talk to.
“A lot of students really just need someone to talk to that can validate what they are feeling,” Tatton said. “We created a place students can go to receive that validation.”
The Health and Wellness Center has provided the program with training and resources to help students one-on-one and to know how to communicate with them effectively to break through those barriers.
In today’s society, mental illness has increasingly become more of a problem for parents, children and even professionals. While helping individuals with their mental health issues, counselors are finding it more of a priority to make sure they themselves have their emotions in check so they can best help their patients.
When asked about handling his own emotions when dealing with difficult situations with patients, Tatton explained his experience with personal well-being in stressful times.
“Self-care is so important when you work in a setting where people are being vulnerable and sharing so much of their experience and their emotions,” Tatton said. “I had to learn to take time for myself to just do some things that I enjoy that allow me to recharge.”
Counselors experience the best as well as the worst situations of people’s lives. In so many ways, it can be very disheartening to see the struggle individuals have every day. Tatton shared that he looks for the little moments of joy to help him push past the difficult circumstances patients face.
“I feel very honored whenever someone trusts me with their experiences,” Tatton said. “That feeling is so rejuvenating for me.”
While he has witnessed the development of the Support Peer Program from the very beginning, Tatton looks forward to more development, funding and outreach. He has high hopes for what the future of the organization could look like.
“In five years, I would like to see the program have permanent funding,” Tatton revealed. “Right now, we have to fight for funding each year and it makes things a lot harder on everyone when we get the funding really late in the summer and have to try to get everything ready as quickly as possible.”
Taking advantage of every dollar granted to the Support Peer Program, leaders have created a safe environment of validation for students to retreat to when they are struggling with feelings of anxiety, depression and homesickness. With additional finances, they could extend their reach and make a difference for even more students in need.
Tatton has high hopes for both the program and himself. He hopes that his experience as a Mental Health Support Peer can help him towards his goal of being a therapist.
“I still have a long way to go in my education and training,” said Tatton. “But working with the Mental Health Support Peers gets me closer to that goal.”
The Health & Wellness Center is located in the Sharwan Smith Student Center, SC 175, next to the radio station. To learn more about the Mental Health Support Peers, visit their website or follow their Instagram.
Article by: Aspen English, Paige Crossley, JaNessa Walker, Isabelle Randall, and Jo B Shurtliff