Student Peer Support Center targets Graduate Student Mental Health

Graduate Division

UCSF doctoral students disproportionately depend on behavioral health services and psychiatric care compared to professional students, as shown in the health care utilization data compiled by Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) during the 2013-2014 academic year.

Many doctoral students would not be surprised to hear this, having experienced firsthand the unique set of challenges faced by this population.

After completing course work, many doctoral students find themselves working in isolation, often without clear expectations or metrics for success. And in isolation, graduate students encounter grueling expectations for research and teaching productivity, workplace conflicts, and experiences of sexism, homophobia, racism and ableism.

Outside of school, students must deal with the pressures of financial instability and trying to maintain some semblance of work-life balance. Grad school is a stressful time, and not surprisingly, all of this can take a toll on a student’s mental health.

As a response to a growing need for mental health services and as an attempt to build a more accepting community at UCSF, graduate students Kate Darling and Shanni Silberberg are pioneering a Graduate Student Peer Support Center (SPSC).

The SPSC will house student leaders trained in peer support by the SHCS staff. The leadership team will host quarterly campus-wide events aimed at de-stigmatization of mental health and promote community building. Leaders will pilot ongoing peer-support groups with graduate students, and advocates will be available by phone, email or via the website to answer students’ academic or personal concerns.

Kate and Shanni are collaborating with Student Health’s Dr. James Lyda, Graduate Division personnel, the Associated Students of the Graduate Division (ASGD), and graduate student volunteers to launch SPSC during Mental Health Awareness Week (October 5th-11th).

To ensure that SPSC offers relevant programming, a needs-assessment questionnaire will be sent to all Graduate Division PhD students this fall.

Students interested in participating and/or becoming student leaders should contact [email protected] for more information.

The SPSC is funded by a grant from UCSF Student Mental Health Initiative (SMHI), which was established by the California Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63) in 2005.