Wolverine Support Network: Supporting students

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 12:43am

As the cheers of football season fade and the holiday lights dim, the winter semester is upon us. For many of us, a new semester comes with heaping amounts of stress. Unfortunately, stress is this University. Student life can be overwhelming when trying to balance school, work and a social life, all while trying to be a “leader” and “best” at everything.

Stress has become so integral to campus culture that its harmful effects can sometimes be overlooked. According to a 2010 UCLA study, the reported emotional health levels of American college students are at a “record low.” Furthermore, it is particularly disturbing that college students are the least likely group to ask for help regarding mental health issues. The silence on mental health has become a dangerous norm and only perpetuates the problem.

Wolverine Support Network is a student organization that strives to directly combat the silent mindset on mental health. Over the past two semesters, Wolverine Support Network has directed a total of 21 weekly confidential peer-to-peer groups that have fostered discussion on mental health.

“It is one hour a week where students can talk about what they need to and know that they will feel welcomed,” Cheyenne Stone, director of marketing for WSN, said.

Contrary to some misconceptions about the organization, the weekly groups are not therapy sessions. Though the WSN leaders are trained weekly by Counseling and Psychological Services, the purpose of groups is to build relationships and start the conversation on mental health. Likewise, the group discussions are open to all and are not only reserved for students with diagnosed psychological problems.

Having been a group leader since WSN’s inception, I consider the weekly groups to be like an open forum. WSN offers a rare opportunity in this gigantic university to truly understand a few students on a deeper, intimate level.  

“I want to have WSN be a release for students; somewhere they can go and to decompress and feel good about where they are at in life,” Alex Gaggino, director of outreach for WSN, said.

Though the groups can be a space to talk about anxiety, depression and the stresses of student life, groups are not limited to those topics.

“Our WSN groups are a chance for people to either say, ‘You know what, it was a really hard week,’ but also a place where you can take a step back and say, ‘Wow look at all these awesome things I'm doing,’ ” Gaggino said.  

Each group is a space to reflect; a refreshing change from fast-paced, stressful student life.

To date, WSN has raised $80,000 to further its cause to destigmatize mental health and establish itself as a strong, supportive community resource on campus. Last year, WSN worked in partnership with Active Minds for the Send Silence Packing event and with the Depression Center for the Defeat Depression Dash 5K. WSN continues to collaborate with other mental wellness organizations, and the directors of WSN will be panelists for the University Mental Health Symposium this semester.

Whether you are experiencing emotional difficulty this semester, want to meet new people or simply want someone to talk to, Wolverine Support Network is a resource available to you. We are founded on the motto “because life happens” because we believe everyone is entitled to a support system.

“I see WSN being a resource on campus that all students are aware of and a majority of students utilize,” Stone said. “We are a community that promotes wellness and friendship, and I see this community flourishing on the University of Michigan campus.”

This piece was written on behalf of the Wolverine Support Network by Rachel John, a member of the group's Outreach Committee.