Diagnosing the campus: Peer Educators help SMC students deal with psychological hurdles

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Santa Monica College's Psychological Services department is raising awareness through its Ready to Talk, Ready to Listen Peer Educator pilot program. Two student pioneers of this project are SMC psych majors Nicole Cutrona and Mirian De La Cruz. Both are working through an internship as 'Peer Educators' to essentially provide a service that does workshops for classrooms but more importantly, provides an avenue of aid for students who might be suffering from the kind of psychological and emotional stress so associated with millennials. The department also plans to hold 'de-stressing' events ahead of finals.

"It's basically students helping other students," said Cutrona. "We go out into classrooms and promote, we were out in the quad today promoting May as Mental Health Awareness Month. We're recruiting right now for next semester and hope to get 10 more peer educators."

The Psychological Services Department trains peer educators in the formation of workshops to educate students on various psychological issues. "We each develop workshops," explained De La Cruz, "my last one was on setting standards."

"I did one on stigmatization of people with sexually transmitted diseases," said Cutrona. "It doesn't sound like a psychological issue at first but 1 out of 4 college students has an STD and if you talk to people, what you get is 'yuck, well of course that's the kind of person who would get an STD, she's a slut.'" According to Cutrona, such value judging can render a person afraid to even seek medical attention. "When you have the flu you see a doctor. But when it's sexual it can be taboo. It's very isolating."

The Psychological Services Department has also conducted studies with the peers on campus to determine the psychological pulse of the campus. "We conducted a survey and students listed anxiety a lot," said De La Cruz. De La Cruz revealed that expectations and stress are the key emotional and psychological red lights affecting the average student.

"For a lot of people this is their first time away from home and the safety net of their family," added Cutrona. "They have to fend for themselves and it's scary and stressful and can be an adjustment period."

As Cutrona explained, the average brain really begins to reach a peak of maturity at around the age of 25 and this is when mental illness or other psychological ailments can arise. "You can go through high school being just fine and then all of a sudden all these changes start happening. This is why we need these resources here, to function as a safety net."

The average misconception is that in order to see a psychologist you have to already be going through some kind of mental breakdown. "Going to Psych Services is free. If you're not feeling emotionally stable or healthy, you should see a psychologist. People might say 'I'm not crazy, I'm not going.' But you should feel comfortable getting help," said De La Cruz.

The Psychological Services Department is now accepting applications to join the peer program. Applicants can go to the Psych Services program to fill out an application and read a job description. The deadline for applicants is May 29.

"It's an internship opportunity for everyone, regardless of your major," explained De La Cruz. Cutrona shared how on Tuesday a woman approached their booth on the quad, amazed that there was a Psych Services department on campus.

A car crash survivor, the woman knew she needed to speak with someone, but didn't know where to look. "I turned to Mirian and said 'we just saved a life," said Cutrona.

"It's about accepting things without letting them build up and really looking in and acknowledging how you feel."