NEW YORK (NEWS10) – SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced on Thursday a new Student Mental Health Peer Advocates Training Program that will allow students to reach out to their peers, who show signs of depression or distress, and provide mental health resources. These resources include referrals to dedicated crisis and counseling centers.

It is the second initiative developed and advocated for by members of the Student Voices Action Committee, which was established in October, to advise SUNY leadership on emerging critical issues and challenges facing students. It sets in motion SUNY’s first agreement with Active Minds to train peer advocates on each SUNY campus to combat mental health issues.

“Feelings of isolation, loss, and persistent anxiety throughout the pandemic have exacerbated mental health and wellness issues among college students,” said Chancellor Malatras. “Studies have shown that they are more likely to tell a friend they are struggling before anyone else. And if students are going to tell their friends first, we have to make sure we have as many students as possible trained to give support.”

The Peer Advocates Initiative assists students amid growing concerns nationwide on mental health struggles. Active Minds reports 39% of students in college experience significant mental health issues, and CDC survey results show the rates of college-age adults contemplating suicide has also increased. In 2018, 10% of college-age adults nationally contemplated suicide, and in June that grew to 25% of college-age adults.

SUNY will begin training students starting with members of the Student Voices Action Committee, Student Assembly, campus resident assistants, student veterans, students with disabilities, Educational Opportunity Program students, and those employed at SUNY’s childcare centers for students – about 500 students. These students will be together virtually for the training on April 10.

The program will use Active Minds VAR: Validate, Appreciate® tool. This tool is one of many specifically targeted for colleges to train students in assisting non-crisis situations.

To coincide with the launch of the Student Mental Health Peer Advocates Training Program, SUNY also released a new video as a part of Chancellor Malatras’ #ReachOutSUNY public awareness campaign. This campaign is designed to educate students on resources and remove the stigma associated with mental health struggles and asking for help.