By Cecilia Cress
Washington College created a new mental health advocacy coach program, Washington College Wellness Advocacy Coaching, or WAC-squared. This is a student-driven service designed to be utilized as a mental health resource.
In this program, students are trained as advocacy coaches to listen to and support students who are struggling with their mental health. According to the WC website, what separates the advocacy coaches from Peer Mentors and Residential Assistants is that the former are trained in mental health first aid.
“Psychological distress is prevalent in college students. Experiencing stress is normal, but reaching out for help is not always easy. The Wellness Advocacy Coaches offer another outlet for students who are seeking support,” Professor of Psychology and Coordinator of the Psychology Department’s Clinical and Counseling Concentration Dr. Lauren Littlefield said.
The wellness advocacy coaches offer peer support on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Their office is located in the Student Engagement Suite in Hodson Hall. The initiative just launched this school year and is available for students when the College is in session.
All peer support with the advocacy coaches is confidential: according to the WC website, all advocacy coaches have signed a confidentiality agreement. All support sessions between students and coaches are covered under privacy laws.
“The WACs are there to listen. They are not advice-givers but caring people who can sit next to you and really listen during a time when you are struggling,” Dr. Littlefield said. “The hope is that students who visit a WAC will come away from a meeting feeling accepted and supported, and perhaps with a new perspective or the knowledge of an additional resource.”
While one of the goals of WAC-squared is for students to feel heard, understood, and supported in a more casual setting that cannot be provided by health or counseling services, according to the WC website, “[The advocacy coaches] also know how to spot signs of more serious distress, in which case they will alert one of the staff clinicians and help guide the student to the right resource.”
There are currently seven trained student advocacy coaches, including senior Austen Markus, junior Lauryn Konieczka, senior Madison Krivda, junior Kayleigh Maimone, sophomore Anna Miller, senior Alex Papadopoulos, and senior James Williams. According to the WC website, they were “invited to become [advocacy coaches] based on recommendations from faculty, and/or because they were actively involved in mental health initiatives on campus already.” The initiative also serves as a four-credit internship for the students.
“This program so far has provided me unique opportunities that line up with my goal of being a licensed mental health counselor,” Krivda, who is also the Outreach Chair and Advocacy Coach, said. “Our primary goal as Wellness coaches is to provide peer support, validation, and resources to students at WC while also raising awareness and destigmatizing mental health topics and challenges.”
Students wishing to utilize this resource can drop in during the scheduled hours to talk with an advocacy coach, or they can also call the phone line at (410) 778-6118, though it is only staffed during the operational hours, according to the WC website.
“I believe this program will help students on campus alleviate stress and prevent mental health crises,” Krivda said. “It will give students a space to feel heard and seen with anything bothering them, such as test grades, roommate tension, relationship stress, and more.” “We can play a vital role on campus by acting as a midway point for students to talk about concerns when they may not feel comfortable talking to a counselor, professor, or even a close friend,” she said.
Photo courtesy of the Washington College Website