Passionate in her pursuit of identifying and sharing processes to ensure student mental wellbeing, Andi Dickmeyer ’19 spent last summer developing a wellness class to be offered next spring. She began where recent graduate Isabel O’Malley ’18 left off in her research on applying and assessing the effects of a suicide prevention program. O’Malley conducted a gatekeeper training program called College SOS for student leaders and athletes, which was a mental health training workshop to enable friends to help friends with problems. Peer Counselors still provide College SOS to student groups as requested.
Dickmeyer reviewed O’Malley’s findings and then turned to a peer mental health program, titled the Student Support Network (SSN) and originally developed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and adopted by schools including Amherst, Boston University, Connecticut College, Oberlin, and Wesleyan, among others. The SSN program is a training course designed to provide college students — who may find themselves in the role of trusted listener or helper for their peers — with knowledge, skills, destigmatizing perspectives, and connection capabilities to help with mental health issues.
Majors: Philosophy and Psychology
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minn.
High School: Robbinsdale Armstrong High School
Dickmeyer observed how students enjoyed O’Malley’s program and benefited from it. She became interested in making them a permanent part of what is available on campus. Under the guidance of Counseling Center Director David Walden, she analyzed the components of O’Malley’s and WPI’s programs to determine what elements could be applied for the greatest benefit for the Hamilton community.
What she developed is called Mental Health Support Skills & Strategies, a 12-hour course offering through the physical education wellness program. It will be taught by an instructor along with guest facilitators with expertise in specific topic areas.
Training in empathetic listening skills will set the foundation for exploration of other mental health-related issues such as substance abuse, which includes personal attitudes about drinking and substance use, views on appropriate drinking behavior and how they vary from person to person as well as how the media influences drinking and drug behavior, how there are both positives and negatives, and how to identify when someone is having a problem with drinking or drugs.
Role-playing real conversations will also be a key component for this practical, skills-based course. Scenarios such as asking a friend about their drinking or depression are examples of situations that will be explored. The course will also address on and off-campus resources, and how to introduce those into a conversation with a peer.
As a Peer Counselor for the last three years, Dickmeyer has watched the evolution of various resources on campus. She came to Hamilton having taken AP Psychology in high school and having been in therapy. Dickmeyer was curious about what it would be like to be on the other side of the therapist-client relationship. As a psychology and philosophy double major, she plans to become a therapist. She enjoys talking and meeting with people and giving back to Hamilton and finds it rewarding which is why she continues to stay engaged. Dickmeyer hopes “for a campus environment that is more open to talking about mental health issues.”
In the future she will continue to focus on “doing meaningful work that I really do care about.” To that end, she wants to ensure that the course she has worked on will offer something that will make students want to take it, not just to complete a requirement.
“This course is about learning about connecting with people anywhere in your life, a co-worker or neighbor, whomever,” said Dickmeyer. Certainly this is a skill that would serve anyone well throughout life.