The Student Health Service building on campus, where Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is located. The Peer Mental Health Alliance plans to bring a program to campus that they say will fill gaps in mental health not addressed by CAPS. STATESMAN FILE

The Peer Mental Health Alliance (PMHA) wants to bring a program to campus to fill certain gaps in mental health coverage that they say are not being addressed by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

The prospective program, conceived by senior psychology major, PMHA’s founder and president, Allilsa Fernandez, would focus on providing students with peer-based mental health support.  

Although Fernandez said the alliance does not yet have an exact model for how the program would work, she stressed that the resource was not meant to be a replacement for professional therapy, but rather an additional place to turn to for those who want peers to confide in.

Fernandez said the program is in the process of verification by mental health professionals within Stony Brook and from outside practices to make sure it is safe and effective for everyone.

As public universities like Stony Brook continue to increase enrollment, they are faced with mounting pressure to add enough mental health services to accommodate the entire student population.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “The increase in enrollment alone is justification for expanding and enhancing mental health services and supports available on college campuses and communities.”

Some schools have responded by connecting students with outside resources. For example, Gregg Henriques, American psychologist and professor at James Madison University, said at his school, 40 to 50 percent of students are referred to mental health practitioners in the area.

Henriques said the PMHA’s idea could be a good alternative to directing students to off-campus resources.


“I believe [PMHA’s prospective] program is a good idea and it should educate students on mental health and how to talk with people who are struggling, in a way that’s effective,” Henriques wrote in an email. “Since the size of need for support is large, one counselor at a time is not sufficient enough, so this group will definitely create more opportunity and could be really helpful,” he added.

Students struggling with mental health issues at Stony Brook already have access to multiple on-campus resources including individual therapy, group therapy and mindfulness meditation.

According to a poll posted on the Stony Brook University Class of 2022 Facebook page on Sept. 19, 37 students said they felt there were already enough resources for students dealing with mental illness and only two students said there weren’t enough resources.

“There are great resources available, but some seem to go underutilized due to general stigma around mental health issues,” Jeremy Nielson, a junior mechanical engineering major, wrote in a comment.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Overall, 40 percent of students with diagnosable mental health conditions did not seek help and a concern of stigma is the number one reason students do not seek help.”

Members of the PMHA say they hope to change this with their new program.

“Growing up from freshman to senior year comes with a lot of stress and I want to make sure the stigma against mental health is broken,” Thanusha Thambithurai, a junior biochemistry major and new member of PMHA, said.

Director of CAPS at Stony Brook, Julian Pessier, threw his full support behind PMHA’s mission.

“My opinion of past work by the Peer Mental Health Alliance is that they are an incredible asset to Stony Brook’s community of care,” Pessier said.

Fernandez said she believes her group will be successful moving forward with its new program because it’s had a great track record so far.

“We have testimonies from students stating that if it weren’t for peer mental health alliance they might have fallen through the cracks, and I truly believe it,” she said. “We are the bridge between the students and professionals.”


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