Raising awareness around students' mental health

Emilie Nicholls founded the student organisation Peer Support to make it easier to talk about mental health issues. She encourages Nord students to reach out when they need to talk to someone.

– The Peer Support programme is a mental health service where students offer mental health support to their peers, explains the leader and founder of the organisation, Emilie Nicholls.

Over the past two years, a group of carefully selected Nord students have been offering their support and guidance to their peers. 

The aim has been to create a safe, low threshold platform to raise awareness around mental health issues through offering one-to-one conversations and hosting social events and talks.

– It is less intimidating to talk to a peer - someone your own age who is on the same level as yourself and not superior to you in any way, Emilie says.

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Founder and leader: Emilie set up peer support at Nord when she started her biology studies two years ago. She got the idea from the boarding school she went to in Wales, which had a similar programme called Peer Listeners (photo: Mari Lund Eide).

It's ok to not be ok

When Emilie Nicholls first moved to Norway to attend Nord University she was baffled that few people seemed to talk openly about mental health issues.

– There is not enough mental health awareness among Norwegians - people don't talk about it enough. When I first moved here and tried talking to my flat mates about mental health related issues, they seem reluctant to discuss it, she says. 

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Core values: The people we have chosen to be peer supporters are energetic, approachable, judgement free and emphatic. Anyone should be able to walk up to a peer supporter, Emilie says (photo: Studentinord).
One of the ideas behind Peer Support was to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues and make it less intimidating to talk about mental health. 

She stresses that although Nord offers counselling services and has a student priest, the university also need a service that is even more low threshold:

– Students come to us with issues they might not feel are important or severe enough to see a counsellor about, or issues that they might feel embarrassed about, like being home sick, Emilie says. 

– We know that if it wasn't for us, some students would sit alone in their rooms with their problems at 9 pm.
 
Nord first out with Peer Support

– Peer Support programmes are very common at universities in Canada, the US and the UK. My sister has set up Peer Support at her university in Amsterdam. I thought that it was time for Norway to have a service like this as well, Emilie says.

Nord is the first Norwegian university that offers peer support. So far, the service has only been established in Bodø. Other Norwegian universities have also shown interest in Emilie's unique initiative. 

– I've been in contact with several other Norwegian universities. This shows that Peer Support is an extremely important service, she says.

Emilie says that the students that have been recruited to be peer supporters have been carefully selected, as well as interviewed. They also go through training offered by the counsellors. 

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Coming together: Our events have gathered students from across the world and faculties, and people that have turned up have given us amazing feedback, says Emilie Nicholls, the leader and founder of Peer Support.
Creating social platforms

In addition to offering one-to-one conversations and mental support, the peer support programme organises social events and talks.

– We want to create social platforms where people can come together, fight loneliness and spread mental health awareness. 

So far, the peer supporters have organised a winter darkness workshop, a goal setting workshop and a student health day. After receiving excellent feedback from the participants, the student health day will be organised next year too.

Peer Support

- Volunteer student organisation at Nord University offering support and guidance to students through confidential conversations and social events. 


- Founded in 2017 by the Irish South-African student Emilie Nicholls.

 

- Peer supporters work with the aid of the Studentinord counsellors and consist of trained students, both Norwegian and international.

 

- All Nord students in Bodø can contact peer supporters if they are struggling to settle in, feeling lonely or homesick, or simply need someone to talk to. 

Source: Studentinord


Contact Peer Support

Contact Peer Support via the Facebook page or call on tel. +47 482 47 287 between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., all week.