Longhorn SHARE Project Expands Mental Health Services for Students
By Cecilia Rodriguez
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas — A new program at the University of Texas aims to reach more students by expanding services as the grind of the semester continues.
Longhorn SHARE Project unveiled its new Peer Support Specialist program this August, after several years of planning.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Adrian Lancaster was starting to slowly expand peer support to students he mentored.
Meeting with a cohort of 500 students regularly led him to realize the similarities of the struggles or experiences students were enduring.
“I kept telling myself it would be great if they could just talk to each other,” Lancaster said.
That finally happened in the fall of 2021 when he, alongside a selected student advisory board, built the Longhorn SHARE Project from the ground up.
Their goal was to develop an infrastructure that would emphasize peer support and give students an opportunity to receive guidance in a non-traditional way.
“If you see yourself in someone else’s experience, if that person is struggling, and you know you respect that person it is really difficult not to respect yourself and see those good things in yourself,” Lancaster said. “There is a special kind of empowering factor in peer support in particular as one of the many options of mental health.”
In just one year Longhorn SHARE Project has expanded its service by launching the Peer Specialist program.
This year’s cohort includes 28 student specialists, trained in active listening, interpersonal communication and motivation interview techniques. All specialists are taught to ask questions to help students through a situation,without assuming they want advice.
“I think there is a really important piece of peer support that you don’t get maybe at a clinical therapist level because as peer support specialists we’ve gone through everything students are going through, we get first hand the stress of the academics,” said Lindley Ferguson, a junior peer specialist.
Ferguson said she grew up surrounded by the stigma of getting help for mental health, which motivated her to apply for this position. It gave her an opportunity to help other students with similar experiences find comfort and healing.
While the peer support program offers services in a group or individual settings, Lancaster emphasizes that it is not a replacement for clinical therapy but instead a space to vent in stressful situations. Since it does not require an appointment, which can be more comforting for some students.
“Finding you know a one-on-one specialist who is also in that position can be very validating, it can calm some of that anxiety knowing that someone else is in that boat with you and that you are not alone,” senior peer specialist Donya Yazdi said.
As the semester continues with finals on the horizon, academic stress and anxiety become prevalent in students. About 7% of college students report symptoms of anxiety according to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center.
The peer support program is helping students deal with academic stress and anxiety through their individual and group share circles, and even offering services in the classroom.
“We go into classes and we break into small groups and we help them discuss what their warning signs are, how to catch them and what we can do to alleviate some of that academic stress during midterms and finals,” Ferguson said.
Longhorn SHARE Project hopes to grow and let more students know support is always available.
“My hope would be that it expands, these skills that we have learned are so important and create so much more inclusivity, so I really hope to see more people involved in the Longhorn Share Project. So we continue to spread throughout campus, spread mental help and fight mental health stigmas that are so pervasive,” Yazdi said.
For more information on the Longhorn SHARE Project visit https://www.healthyhorns.utexas.edu/share.html