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Welfare at Christ Church: Peer Support

Written by Rachel Cross, posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2018

14th-20th May is Mental Health Awareness Week. University can be stressful at times, but there are plenty of sources of support and advice within college and the wider University that can help to alleviate some of the stress. In this post Rachel Cross, the JCR Peer Support Coordinator, tells us about the Peer Supporters at Christ Church and how they help to provide support to other members of the JCR.

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The essence of peer support at Christ Church is to provide students here with confidants who are also just regular students, doing a regular degrees. We have each had 30 hours of training with the Oxford University Counselling Service in active listening skills, emotional support and signposting to wider university support services, and this training is delivered over the course of a term by a professional counsellor. We are in essence, ‘mini unofficial counsellors’ that have been trained in the basic skills to provide direction to our peers and act appropriately in crisis. We can offer one-to-one support regarding any issue another student may want to discuss with someone – whether big or small. By just being regular JCR members, we have the advantage of being in close connection with other students and are generally easier to approach than going immediately to a senior member of welfare staff. We work in close connection with the welfare team in Christ Church and the University Counselling Service, but we are compelled to maintain the standards of confidentiality whenever we are providing support to someone. Our peer support team consists of a mixture of students from different year groups, and we also have peer supporters who have extra training in dealing with difficulties for LGBTQ+ and BME students.

As the peer support coordinator, I am also just a regular member of the JCR, but I represent the team of peer supporters as a member of the JCR committee and the college welfare committee which includes the staff members employed in a welfare role. In my role I ensure that each of our peer support team is fulfilling their role as effectively as they can, and that they are taking care of their own wellbeing in the process. I also help coordinate some of the JCR welfare events in college alongside the welfare reps. Every term, we run an initiative called ‘Welfairy’, which allows people to send pick-me-up packages to their friends in college by making up and distributing them anonymously. This usually happens every 5th week, but in Trinity term we run it for four weeks during exam season. All the peer supporters get involved with this – and it’s great fun! We also run a late-night tea break every week during term time, where we provide tea, snacks and games and hang out in the JCR to chat and have a break from the everyday bustle of Oxford life. This is also a great opportunity for anyone to meet the peer supporters in a more informal context.

I can say hands-down that peer support has been one of the highlights of my time at Oxford so far. I trained in Hilary of my first year and it is such an honour to be able to serve my peers at Christ Church in this way with my time and skills. As someone with a history of mental health difficulties myself who found empowerment in speaking up, I’m passionate about institutions providing on-hand interventions that can help people vocalise their difficulties and seek appropriate help without feeling guilt or shame. Even if an issue appears small, I’m a huge advocate of healthy vulnerability that enables people to speak up about their personal struggles and to not be held back by the damaging norms and taboos of our society.

 

Rachel Cross

JCR Peer Support Coordinator