The Cal State University, Long Beach (CSULB), College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) partnered with CSULB Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to launch the Beach Buddy Program in fall 2020. Beach Buddy is a peer mentoring program that offers students a new way to connect with other students for emotional support and mental health resources. CHHS, CAPS, the CSULB Division of Student Affairs (DSA), and Mental Health America- Los Angeles (MHALA) worked together to secure a Mental Health Partnership Grant from the CSU Chancellors Office, which will fund the program during the 2020-2021 school year.
“The Beach Buddy program was created because we believe that we need more outreach and prevention work on our campus to meet the mental health and wellness needs of our students in a way that current counseling service may not meet,” Bongjoo Hwang, Director of CAPS, said. He added, “We are very excited to launch this new program and have a very meaningful impact on the wellness of the students at CHHS and other departments.”
Hwang will co-run the program with Gloria Flores, who was recently hired as the Peer Mentor Coordinator for CAPS. CAPS, with support from CHHS faculty, Student Affairs, and MHALA, will train students to work as peer mentors for other students on the CSULB campus who experience difficulties with school, relationships, stress management, or other concerns.
According to Hwang, not all students need professional counseling services when dealing with an issue. Some students just need someone who can emphatically listen and provide emotional support. Furthermore, there is a stigma attached to mental health issues and seeking professional help. Many students feel more comfortable talking to a peer.
Dr. Robert Schug, Clinical Psychologist, Associate Professor, and Chair of the CHHS Mental Health Advisory Board, believes that the Beach Buddy program is now more important than ever. Many students are socially isolated and concerned about the state of the world.
According to Dr. Schug, it can be very difficult for students to reach out to a faculty or staff member about a mental health issue. Oftentimes, it’s easier for students to talk to another student who inherently understands what the student is going through and can sympathize with their situation.
“Isolation is one of the worst things for a person who is struggling with mental health issues,” Dr. Schug said. He continued, “Anything that we can do to promote healthy connectivity and social support, will contribute to a solution for the student. And that’s exactly what the peer program does.”
The Beach Buddy program removes barriers for students who are resistant to seeking counseling, have scheduling conflicts with the typical counseling hours, or just need some extra support during difficult times.
"This generation of college students is going through very unique experiences, in addition to the common internal and external stressors that may come with the college experience,” Gloria Flores, Peer Program Coordinator for CAPS, said. She continued, “Utilizing peer mentors not only fosters a greater sense of community but also gives us greater insight into what students are going through and how we can best support them.”
To train the Beach Buddies, CAPS will provide ongoing meetings and training, MHALA will provide training seminars and workshops, and three supervisors will meet regularly with assigned Beach Buddies to provide support and guidance. CHHS faculty, Dr. Nilnufer Medora and Dr. Leilani Madrigal, and Division of Student Affairs' Wellness Coordinator, Candice Chick will serve as the supervisors for the Beach Buddies.
"As a supervisor for the peer mentors I hope to help empower them to feel confident in their ability to support their peers, whether that is through guidance to other support networks, resources on campus, or just a friendly ear that will listen about a stressful week,” Dr. Madrigal said.
CAPS is currently recruiting Beach Buddies, and the program will start training in mid-August. Six Beach Buddies, two graduate and four undergraduate students, will serve CHHS students, and three other Beach Buddies, one graduate and two undergraduate students, will serve other general student populations on campus.
Looking to the future, there is a great opportunity for expansion, growth, and collaboration with other colleges and campus partners on the program. Because of Beach Buddies, we hope many CSULB students will feel less alone, more supported, and more connected to the Beach community.