DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Faculty at Duke University say things like rising financial costs, violence and global issues have only added to the stress students are dealing with on top of getting an education.
“All those things are coming up in these calls,” said Nancy Zucker, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.
Zucker said DukeLine started as a research project nearly three years ago to add an additional resource to students needing emotional and mental health support. She said the text-base support line is not just for students at the university, but it’s also ran by students, too.
Zucker said, “The line operates on two levels: There are the students who are receiving support and the coaches that are trained to be validating and supportive listeners.” Both remain anonymous.
After testing the peer support program at a few dorms on campus, Zucker said they fully launched DukeLine at the university last fall. Zucker added, “Last week, we had 40 calls, so if you do the math by the end of the semester, that’s about 650 calls to the line. That’s a lot of contacts that we have– students we can be helping.”
Zucker said the support line has gotten busier as the awareness of DukeLine has spread. The professor said students are not only becoming more comfortable and aware of talking about mental health, but professors and faculty are also becoming more educated. So far, Zucker said they’ve had more than 60 students complete the semester-long training to become a coach.
“When you hear that level of validation from someone who you know has been through the same thing, I think that’s a lot more powerful… I think there’s a level of authenticity and connection that happens when it’s peer to peer,” said Zucker.
While DukeLine is an extra tool for support, Zucker said it is not a substitute for a crisis line or treatment- especially in an emergency.
Lily Elman, a senior undergraduate at Duke University, said she took the training two semesters ago to gain experience for the career she hopes to pursue and noticed students who were struggling. Elman said she doesn’t offer advice, but instead, is there to listen and follow up.
“I had one call last semester where I followed the person for a very long time,” said Elman who added, “I never knew who they were and we didn’t talk about the same thing each week, but we developed a certain relationship that they knew I was going to call at a certain time each Wednesday.” Through the conversations, Elman’s goal is to be there for validation and support as students come to finding their own solutions.
Even though the textline is anonymous on both ends, the senior said she’s able to connect to some of the issues that are often mentioned. Elman said, “I’m able to do a lot of, ‘I understand what you’re feeling, I feel the same way.’”
While it may be only a message, Elman said being there to listen to someone can mean so much. She added, “It’s really nice to see what can happen in such a short time with talking to strangers.”
Zucker said that they are partnering with the Duke Pratt School of Engineering to find ways to improve DukeLine and its impact. Researchers are also assessing whether the program is feasible for students to provide social support to others and not get burned out. Zucker said she hopes the service allows students to find help while also making sure they feel safe and heard.