This article also incorrectly listed Nightline's hours as 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — it is actually 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Up until the spring of 2010, distressed students had a place to call for peer support from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every night of the term. The anonymous callers spoke to Nightline, a student-run and student-staffed peer-to-peer counseling, information, and support service that was originally advised by Student Support Services (S³). Nightline closed last year when the group stopped service to examine their impact on campus. After a year of evaluation, it has been determined that Nightline will not reopen and will instead be replaced by another peer support service.
According to a press release from Nightline last September, Nightline closed due to the large amount of non-MIT callers and lack of staff. The group shut down the service to examine if their advising office should switch from S³, if Nightline was still an effective service, and if a new type of support group should be established.
After Nightline closed, Isabella S. Lubin ’12 and Tzipora R. Wagner ’12 — former Nightline staffers interested in re-establishing peer support at MIT — in addition to other students who have since graduated, continued to meet with the goal of doing a peer support needs assessment, calling themselves Peer2Peer. In February of 2011, Peer2Peer — with the UAAP and MIT Institutional Research — included questions about peer support, as well as a link to a longer peer-support survey, on the MIT Enrolled Student Survey. This survey is run in the spring semester every four years to poll student opinion about their experience at MIT. All undergraduates are eligible to answer.
Survey data indicated that MIT students wanted peer-to-peer support. Peer2Peer also held focus groups, gathering input about the need for peer support at MIT. But it was determined that Nightline was not effective at providing the kind of support necessary, and it was decided to keep the program closed.
Alan E. Siegel, chief of Mental Health Services at MIT, noted that Nightline was getting few calls from MIT students, but many calls from outside people looking for support. “We didn’t feel Nightline captured the essence of peer-to-peer support,” he noted.
Lubin and Wagner, James D. Chansky — an MIT Mental Health social worker — and Maryanne Kirkbride, clinical director for campus life, have been working to develop the new peer-to-peer model.
“We’re in very early stages, and hope to have a program ready by next term,” said Lubin, who also noted that there would be plans for staff training and recruitment at that time.
Siegel noted that they have been looking at existing models in other universities as inspiration for a new MIT model.
“Results from the survey in February have indicated that students are more likely to reach out to peers before reaching out to professional services,” Wagner noted. “We are working to lower the barrier to contact, so that our services can be widely utilized. The service isn’t just meant to be used in times of crises, but also for everyday issues, like problems with friends or p-set stress.”
While MIT Mental Health does not provide a formal peer-to-peer service, “we’ve been making an effort to have our staffers make sure that people in the living groups are aware of the services we offer,” Siegel said. “We have worked a lot with GRTs, housemasters, administrative offices, and faculty on different ways of talking about how to be helpful to students when they are under distress.”
However, Siegel added that many students felt that MIT Mental Health should not directly become part of the dorm experience, so Mental Health has been working indirectly.
Siegel also noted that MIT Mental Health would sometimes get calls from students about their friends. These students would ask what they could do to help.
“There is a good informal peer-to-peer support network at MIT due to the collaborative interactions here,” said Siegel. “The GRTs and RAs certainly help contribute to the system, and I feel the culture encourages support.”
“The services at MIT Mental Health are great and underutilized,” Lubin said. “But often we feel that students should reach out to peers as a first step.”
“Students won’t always need to go to a doctor or psychologist first,” Wagner added, “but they may still need to go to someone.
MIT Mental Health has had a 70 percent increase in walk-ins this past November — higher than any other month in the last three years — and the number of walk-ins per day was double the average per month since 2008, said Siegel. He credits the increase in students urging their friends to go to medical, and the efforts of GRTs, housemasters, and the faculty.
Students looking for support are encouraged to reach out to a friend or speak with their GRTs or house team. MIT Mental Health has walk-in hours from 2 to 4 p.m. every weekday, and appointments can be made by calling 617-253-2916.