A search for empathy and the need for quick emotional support gave birth to the first peer-run on-call counseling hotline. Inspired by an analysis of peers’ needs in addition to their own Ragha Suresh, MD, and Varsha Radhakrishnan, MD, began the idea for a hotline in 2016. During this time the two were students at New Jersey Medical School.
The two noticed that struggle found its way into their lives, and others, at the worst times. It tested their mental health, often occurring between therapy sessions or during busy days with full schedules. A demanding course load and constant planning for the future got in the way of addressing their mental stability. Sometimes all the students needed was a few minutes to be heard, better yet, understood. Suresh and Radhakrishnan rounded up a group of 50 student volunteers and began training.
A Sympathetic Ear
The call center’s founders trained 50 students. They simulated call and provided supplemental information to be forwarded to concerned students. The topics covered in the supplemental materials are related to sleep habits, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness exercises. The NJMS Peer Wellness Program, which is not meant for callers in crisis, has guides on how to aid students from the School who might need further help. The hotline is merely an empathetic ear. Having other students man the line gives callers a feeling of being understood. Relatability is key. Currently, the call center has about 30 callers who are on phone lines seven days a week despite their own heavy course loads.
Room to Grow
This call center is only available to NJMS students at present. If introduced elsewhere, it could decrease current and future depression, anxiety, burnout, and suicide rates in the medical community. The low cost of the hotline makes it possible for any institution to implement. With 25 percent of medical students exhibiting signs of depression, a peer call center could change things. It could provide the first step these students take towards improving their mental state. It could also set to give them the necessary tools to practice good mental health during their career.
To find out more about the hotline, its founders, and how it got started click here.
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