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Divya Srinivasan ’13 is one of the co-founders of the student support service Peer Ears, along with Emad Taliep ’14. Peer Ears aims to train students to help direct their peers to MIT mental health resources, and hopes to launch in the fall.
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Need an ear? Next fall, students will be able to try Peer Ears, a peer support service within students’ residences which will act as a safeguard against an environment of overwhelming stress. The support staff will be comprised of students, called “peer ears,” who work with the existing support services in the dorms (such as GRTs, Housemasters) in order to promote mental well-being. Co-founders Emad Taliep ’14 and Divya Srinivasan ’13 have moved the launch of their pilot program from this coming spring to fall of 2013 in order to keep recruiting volunteers. Before launching, they want to ensure that there are enough residences of sufficient diversity in order to make reliable observations about what is the optimal support system for MIT.

Both Srinivasan and Taliep are on the executive board of the MIT chapter of Active Minds. As president of the chapter, Taliep tries to follow his own advice of enforcing a work-life balance. He says that he has started taking one day off each weekend to do no work, so that he can recharge and relax for the coming week.

“Every now and then, I feel that whenever there’s a mental health conversation, it’s almost as if when I’m the one to broach that topic, I hear almost a sigh of relief from the other side every now and then,” Taliep noted. “That moment where someone realizes that ‘I’m not the only one thinking about how I take care of my mental self, while I take care of my grades and every other part of myself at MIT.’”

According to Taliep, the role of the student volunteers is to watch for overstressed peers and provide a sympathetic ear to their hallmates. For example, he explained, if a peer ear found that his or her wing was particularly stressed, he or she could let the GRTs know to possibly “dig into a coffer for study break money” and “lighten up the mood.”

“It’s just about having enough people with their ears to the ground, looking around to see what’s going on, and providing an avenue to give a general impression of what’s going on just in case someone else is too knee-deep in what they’re working on [to notice],” said Taliep.

If a student comes directly to a peer ear, the peer ear would try to determine if the person “hasn’t explored all the ways of de-stressing,” or whether the issue is a larger problem that needs professional help. Peer ears would point students to the proper resources, from wellness classes at MIT Medical to Student Support Services and Mental Health and Counseling.

“I think it’s very, very humbling to be on this campus at this time and engaged in issues of student wellness,” said Taliep. “It’s remarkable to see how we as a student body have really taken a vested interest in our own mental wellness and our own physical wellness. … Because I know we’re the inventive type. I think we can do it.”

Students who have any questions about the program can email peerears-contact@mit.edu.