Student life can be incredibly tough. To help students negotiate the mental health challenges, Eastern Washington University has launched two new programs. One is a peer support app called TalkCampus. Using the app, students can talk anonymously with other students from colleges around the world who are going through the same struggles they are.

Tricia Hughes, the senior director for EWU Counseling and Wellness, says the app is a good option to help students adjust to the online environment we have found ourselves in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The university is providing traditional counseling services virtually, however, the TalkCampus app lets students interact with their peers in another online format 24/7.

“In speaking with other universities that had adopted this product, they found that students really enjoyed the peer-to-peer format and were very engaged,” Hughes says. “It allowed students who may not go to the counseling center to have a place to express their worries and issues and be responded to by trained peers from across the world.”

To unlock the free app, students just need to sign up using their EWU Eagles email address. Once they become part of the TalkCampus community, students can open up about themselves or post anonymously, share experiences, and support others. The app promotes a safe place to share struggles with anxiety, depression, stress, bipolar disorder, self-harm, anorexia, suicidal feelings and more.

If you are a student interested in being trained as a peer counselor for the platform, you can apply through EWU’s TalkCampus website. The website also has more information about the app and links to download it; you can also find a list of additional support resources.

While TalkCampus is not a crisis support service, the app does have professional staff members available to assist in situations where there is concern that someone might harm themselves or are exhibiting bullying or extreme bias. In those situations, EWU will also be notified.

A second program aimed at helping Eastern students with their mental health needs is a unique partnership which will help EWU assess and improve the programming available to students. JED Campus is a nationwide initiative of the Jed Foundation designed to help universities enhance emotional well-being and mental health promotion efforts, reduce substance abuse and prevent suicide among students.

“We felt it was important to look to a well-respected group that is used by many of our peer institutions in the state,” says Hughes. “Mental health concerns are growing—our counseling center has seen increased waitlists and students are coming to college with higher mental health needs. By working with JED, we hope to identify the gaps we have and implement programs that will serve our students.”

EWU entered into a strategic, four-year partnership with JED Campus in fall 2019. A leadership team comprised of staff, faculty and students from across university departments formed and met monthly. The team completed a campus-wide assessment of EWU’s programs, systems and challenges. In addition, about 2,000 students completed the Healthy Minds Survey or participated in focus groups. Once completed, the campus assessment then informed the development of a draft strategic plan for the campus.

The JED Campus Leadership Team is currently in the process of prioritizing the strategic plan, as well as modifying activities that were developed prior to COVID-19. “The strategic plan was developed back in February, and given the state of the world right now, we are re-looking at things to make sure we can carry them out in our virtual environment and that we are looking at everything through a lens of mental health equity for our students,” says Hughes.

Once the strategic plan is finalized, a JED campus liaison will work with the leadership team to implement changes to various policies, programs and services. Over the next three years, Hughes hopes to create stronger system on campus to engage with students and better support their mental health and wellbeing.

To learn more about the work being done in this partnership, please visit EWU’s JED Campus website.