Students' Union Peer Link Worker, Emma Evetovits, shares her experience of seeking support as a student at UCL, the benefits of peer support and addresses some of the common questions that come up about this type of support.

As an international student from Eastern Europe, I was surprised to find out how much support for mental health and wellbeing is made available to students at UCL. After the tough period of transitions throughout 2020, I finally plucked up the courage to reach out to UCL Student Support and Wellbeing last spring, once I realized that my mental health was taking a toll on my academic performance. I was relieved to find that there were a handful of different forms of free support I was eligible for to help me manage. For the first time in a long time, I felt acknowledged. Nonetheless, I had to sort through a lot of dense web pages and dreary information on my own to gain access to the support I was entitled to. Our peer support project with PsychUP for Wellbeing and UCL Students’ Union trains up UCL students as Peer Link Workers (PLW) to support you through the complex but rewarding process of seeking support at uni. Looking back, it is a service I would have found really useful last spring.

Today, our group of PLWs (including myself) have spoken to and supported over 100 UCL students from diverse backgrounds, who all came to us with unique issues. Topics range from stress and anxiety around academics or personal relationships, to struggles with English, finances, or job hunting (to name just a few). The sessions are a safe space where students can talk about whatever is on their minds. We understand that sometimes you may feel overwhelmed and talking through your worries out loud with someone can give you more clarity about what you are feeling. As peer supporters, we are trained to listen to you, help you explore your options, and empower you to consider the best way to navigate whatever you may be struggling with.

When speaking to students we refer to a signposting document including a wide range of both UCL and free non-UCL services and resources that students may benefit from. However, our main goal is not just to pass you on to be supported by someone else. When a student is not looking for any further specialized support or resources, the session provides a listening ear, reassurance, and empowerment. If this sounds like something you would like to try, click here to book your first Peer Support session. Depending on demand, we sometimes have same-day sessions available!

A note about confidentiality, which can be a concern for people when using peer support. There’s a lot of information about this on the peer support webpage and set out in our confidentiality policy so the focus below is on misconceptions about our service not addressed elsewhere. Important to say though - we will never share information with your academic department. In rare cases, if we share information with a third party, we will try to do so with your consent and always tell you if we have done this.

There are many things that SU peer support can be and just as many, that it cannot. Below I will guide you through 5 common misconceptions and some guidance on what you can expect from a session with a Peer Link Worker.  

“I want to speak to someone but thought peer support was just for new students and undergraduates...”

Countless times students have told me they hesitated to book an appointment because they were unsure if peer support was available to postgraduate and/or mature students. I have had fruitful sessions with a wide range of ages from 18-year-old freshers to mature students aged 50+. Some contacts are new to UCL, others have completed multiple degrees at the university. While each PLW might have more in common with some students than others, as UCL students we are all peers in some form.

“Peer support isn’t like support from professionals, isn’t it ok to make friends and meet up socially?”

While our PLWs are very friendly and understand that university can get lonely at times, we cannot pursue a friendship with you outside of the official peer support context. Any offers to meet your PLW outside a session will be politely declined. We understand that you might be curious about our personal experiences and each PLW will decide how much they disclose about themselves during the session. We will always respect your boundaries and we ask you to do the same in return.

If you are looking to make friends, we will be happy to discuss this and help you browse the various activities and societies at UCL where you can socialize with other students.

“I’m not sure what I want from speaking to a Peer Link Worker”

Some students come to us with a clear idea of what they need to address their issue, others are unsure about the kind of support they want or have no interest in being signposted. There is no requirement about this. It is the peer support process itself that often helps students gain some clarity about what they need. In short, don’t worry about planning for your session, we are there to walk through the process with you.

“I’m looking for someone to tell me what they think I should do about the problem I’m experiencing”

Our peer support does not involve providing directive advice to students for two main reasons. One, our PLWs are not qualified to provide directive advice about your mental health or any other aspect of your life as a student. We also do not know enough about your background and personal life to give appropriate and well-informed advice. Two, we believe that supporting your wellbeing will be done most effectively when based on your ideas and feelings about your unique situation. By exploring this with you, we hope to empower you to come to your own conclusions about what you want to do. We will support you through this process and will be happy to share our own experiences where relevant.

“Peer means someone my age, right? I don’t think Peer Support will be that useful unless I speak to someone in the same stage of university as me”

You won’t necessarily speak to someone the same age as you. However, in my experience, I have spoken to more fellow students who were not my age. The word peer often implies similarity in age, but what makes us peers is being students of UCL. There are many levels, beyond age, that students can relate on, and these shared experiences are highly valuable. We have found that differences in age in peer support relationships can actually provide a fresh perspective and make for mutually beneficial support.

Useful practical info to know...

  • A booked session will show as 60 minutes in your Teams calendar, but you don’t have to use a full hour! Session lengths vary a lot – from 15-20 minutes up to 45-50 minutes.
  • Follow-up sessions can be with the same Peer Link Worker or a different one – that choice is yours.
  • Peer support is provided online with no current plans to introduce face-to-face support.

You can book your 1-2-1 peer support session now via our online calendar