Content Warning: this article contains mentions of suicide
Following deliberations at the Feb. 25 Student Representative Assembly meeting, the SRA has decided to rescind Peer Support Line.
Created in 2013, PSL is an anonymous hotline and online chat system students may access to receive peer support. The service currently operates from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. every day.
As a part of the regular service review, which every McMaster Students Union service must go through, the MSU services committee deemed PSL’s current structure as unsustainable. Following deliberations with Executive Board, the board in charge of making long-term decisions on behalf of the student union, the two governing bodies decided to recommend rescinding PSL.
One of the main concerns both EB and the services committee have about the current operation of PSL is the number of crisis calls it receives.
“Five years on, the PSL now receives mainly crisis calls, posing severe safety concerns for all parties involved — both the users of the service and volunteers who are performing front-line trauma intake, which is not something that student volunteers are trained or equipped to facilitate,” said Preethi Anbalagan, vice president (Administration) and vice chair of EB. “To be clear, if rescinded… the resources currently used to facilitate PSL would be earmarked to enhance the depth, profile, and awareness of all peer and crisis support services.”
In addition, both EB and the services committee feel that peer support networks have expanded considerably since PSL was first introduced in 2013, such the creation of of hotlines such as government-funded Good2talk and the MSU’s Student Assistance Plan, which includes a hotline equipped with professional counselors, among others.
“Since , the peer support resources of the MSU have grown considerably, Women and Gender Equity Network and Maccess have become very important peer support services. In addition, renewed focus in both the Student Health Education Centre and the Queer Students Community Centre has resulted in expanded peer support availability as well,” said Anbalagan.
Both the services committee and EB recommend incorporating the chatline function into other peer support services. They both also also recommend increasing promotions of chat lines such as the Student Assistance Plan and the Good2Talk line, both of which are equipped with professional counseling.
EB specifically recommends the MSU continues develop the Caring Communities Network, a program launched by MSU president Chukky Ibe to train individuals in various clubs or associations to provide support and give referrals.
EB also stresses renewing the MSU’s commitment to peer support by developing other forms of identity-based support programming and explore creating a peer support centre in the Student Activity Building.
During the Feb. 25 SRA meeting, the services committee, EB and PSL gave delegations outlining their stance and the future of peer support within the student union.
Executives from PSL made their own delegation, where they argued that the MSU should not view discussions of suicide as a crisis.
PSL argued that their service has never branded itself as a crisis line and that many individuals who access their line eventually access professional help after receiving peer support from PSL volunteers.
“Most of the students who call PSL to talk about suicidal ideation would not consider themselves to be ‘in crisis’ — in fact, it is often the very fear that it will be taken as a crisis and escalated beyond their control that prevents these students from discussing their ideation with professionals or even friends,” said Pranali Raval, PSL’s assistant director.
They also stressed the importance of the kind of support PSL offers.
“We would like to point out that the newly introduced or strengthened services — i.e. the Student Assistance Plan, COAST, Good2Talk — offer professional support, as opposed to peer support. While these services may allow student involvement, they are not in the form of peer support,” said Victoria Wong, PSL’s promotion coordinator.
The SRA ultimately voted in favour of rescinding the service. PSL will continue to function until the end of this semester, after which point it will no longer exist within the MSU peer support network.