Photo courtesy of Boston College Lean On Me / Facebook

Lean on Me BC Prepares to Launch Peer Support Hotline

Lean On Me BC, an anonymous 24/7 peer support hotline, is gearing up to go live on campus later this fall. The Gavel recently spoke with Lean On Me BC’s Interim President Cady Sanderson, LSOE ‘19, to learn more about the initiative and its purpose within the Boston College community.

BC’s chapter of Lean On Me is part of a larger organization that reaches campuses across the country. Lean On Me was first created at MIT and was later implemented at schools such as the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania. UGBC Senator Reed Piercey, MCAS ‘19, decided last year to found BC’s branch of Lean On Me after learning about the organization’s role at other schools.

“[Reed] is in UGBC, worked for Samaritans last year and the year before that, and he wanted to see if there was something he could do at BC that was a mental health type of hotline. And then he learned about the branch that Lean On Me had at MIT, which is where it was basically started,” said Sanderson. “He talked to the MIT people for a while last fall, and then in the springtime, he realized that he wanted to start the group on campus.”

UGBC’s Student Assembly passed Piercey’s resolution last April, and he has been spearheading its implementation as a UGBC Student Initiative ever since. Once in place, the hotline will serve as a resource for any BC students looking to speak to a peer anonymously about any non-emergency problems they’re struggling with. According to Sanderson, “Anyone at Boston College can reach out to the hotline and say that they’re having an issue. It can be anything from having a breakup with a boyfriend to having severe anxiety.”

She went on, “[A student] would text into the hotline and then we have a group of supporters who respond to these text messages. They are trained to respond to them in the appropriate manner, and we have certain guidelines that they have to abide by when they are responding to text messages.”

Lean On Me aims to create a stronger peer and mental health support system for BC students. Sanderson believes that Lean On Me will fill a much-needed role within the BC community, where it can be difficult for students to admit they need help. “I feel that there are so many students who go around and act like everything is fine and great, but realistically everyone is so involved and has so many classes and other activities going on that no one really gets the chance to see if a student is struggling,” she explained. “I think that even from from talking to friends and everything else, it seems fairly apparent that everyone needs someone to ‘lean on.’"

Sanderson also emphasized that Lean On Me is for non-emergency matters only. When it comes to more serious issues, Lean On Me’s supporters will have to direct students to University Services. She clarified, “If [a student] contacts Lean On Me saying that [they’re] going to commit suicide, we have to stop and say that we’re not trained to respond to that, and then we provide them with resources that BC does provide, like BCPD and Samaritans.”

To Sanderson, Lean On Me’s ability to connect students with other resources on campus is an important part of the organization’s purpose. “A lot of what Lean On Me is supposed to do is to help make people more aware of what resources do exist,” she added. “For example, someone might be having a serious issue and not realize that it’s probably a bigger deal than they think.”

The organization is now in the process of recruiting about 30 student volunteers to serve as supporters, with applications due on Sept. 24. Once these volunteers have been accepted, they will undergo training before they are officially able to take on the role. University Counseling is directly involved with this aspect of the initiative, and staff from Boston College Mental Health Services will be working with Lean On Me to train the new supporters.  

Sanderson plans to have the Lean On Me hotline go live by early November, at which point this group of peer supporters will be fully equipped to help any member of the BC community seeking someone to lean on. “I think Lean On Me does a good job of helping people better understand what they’re feeling, as well as validating these feelings if people do think they need more help,” concluded Sanderson. “Providing greater peer support and being a listening ear for those who are seeking help is basically the main goal of the organization.”

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Jill Cusick