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 began to noticed that struggle found its way into their own lives and others at the worst possible times. To their dismay, often times this occurred between therapy sessions or in the middle of a busy day when schedules would not allow for life to be put on hold. 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.
These 50 students were coached through practice calls and were given information to forward 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 New Jersey Medical 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 by someone with who may have similar concerns, fears, and problems. Currently the call center has about 30 callers who are on phone lines seven days a week despite their own heavy course loads.
This call center is only available to NJMS students however it could be implemented easily into other educational institutions as a way for students and medical schools are working to decrease current and future depression, anxiety, burnout, and suicide rates in their community. The low cost of the hotline makes it possible for any educational institutions to implement. With 25 percent of medical students exhibiting signs of depression, a peer call center could be the first step these students take towards improving their mental state and setting them up with the tools necessary for a long and successful career in the medical world.
To find out more about the hotline, its founders, and how it got started click here.
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