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Spotlight: USC TrojanSupport

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Have you heard about what’s happening at the University of Southern California? As institutions around the country aim to add more mental health resources to meet their students’ needs, USC is leading the way with student-led programs and university initiatives that expand the reach and grow the impact of their mental health support services.

For these efforts, we’re putting USC TrojanSupport in the Knack Spotlight this week. Here are three features that make this program stand out.

Feature #1: By Students, For Students

TrojanSupport is a new mental health program at USC that utilizes the power of peer support. The program was started by Armand Amini, a pre-med student majoring in neuroscience. According to USC Annenberg Media, Amini thought of the idea when his friend was faced with insomnia and depression. Though Amini’s friend was struggling, he was having a hard time asking for help. This highlighted the gap that often exists between campus professionals and students in need. Realizing this, Amini set out to bridge that gap by building a network of peer support. 

It took Amini and his team 18 months to create and launch TrojanSupport, which USC News describes as “the university’s first student-led peer support program started by students for students at USC.” From the organization’s webpage, USC students can make an appointment to speak with someone at TrojanSupport.

In the time it took to organize and launch TrojanSupport, Amini and his team struggled to identify how they could best fit into the existing landscape of support on campus. According to the Daily Trojan, they needed to focus on offering support instead of counseling to become a school-approved group. In the end, they fit as a supplement to existing counseling services, providing appropriate levels of help and referring students to campus resources as needed.

Amini hopes to create an arm of the program for graduate and professional students by the time he graduates, after which he plans to bring the program to other colleges in California. 

Feature #2: Extensive Training

TrojanSupport peers undergo extensive training to serve in their role. First, these student volunteers are required to become certified by Mental Health First Aid USA, an organization that delivers an 8 hour training on mental health. They also become certified by NASPA as certified peer educators through a 12 hour training that covers effective listening skills, bystander intervention, and the role of the peer educator. The week-long training for TrojanSupport volunteers also includes guest lectures on issues like recognizing depression and substance abuse, responding to anxiety or suicidal ideation, and understanding how to refer students to appropriate campus resources. 

Through this thoughtful and comprehensive training, TrojanSupport volunteers have gotten off to a great start and have earned recognition as a student organization from Undergraduate Student Government. Furthermore, while it is not directly sponsored by USC Student Health, Chief Student Health Officer Sarah van Orman has become a strong advocate for the program, believing that it helps “increase help-seeking behaviors and feelings of connectedness among students.”

Feature #3: Part of the Bigger Picture

While TrojanSupport is student-created and student-led, it’s only one aspect of USC’s overall effort to increase student access to mental health support. In October 2018, USC News reported that the counseling center would hire 10 more mental health providers before the end of the year. Prior to this change, there was only one counselor for every 1,800 students and 70% of students seeking help were referred out to the community. 

USC Student Health has also partnered with the The JED Foundation to bring to life new initiatives and improvements in mental health support. For example, the “Let’s Talk” program meets students where they are by bringing counselors to centralized locations like libraries and residence halls for drop-in sessions.

Furthermore, newly appointed behavioral health consultant, Jennifer Hsia, acts as a liaison between medical and mental health staff at USC Student Health, empowering their work towards integrative patient care. Since some physical symptoms are tied to mental distress and students may seek medical help instead of mental health help, a consultation with a behavioral health consultant within a medical appointment allows for added convenience and care.