UMass Chan Academic Peer Support Study Provides Guidance for Students with Mental Health Issues

Maryann Davis, PhD

Maryann Davis, PhD, professor of psychiatry, is the principal investigator of an ongoing clinical trial investigating the benefits of a peer intervention program for undergraduate students with severe mental disorders and the steps needed to maintain their school perseverance. The trial takes place on the campuses of Boston University and UMass Boston.

Dr Davis, who is also director of theTransitions to Adulthood Research Center and the Center for Research on Advances in the Science and Practice of Implementation at UMass Chan said peer support coaches work to help students develop or strengthen skill sets for academic success.

“It’s a professional relationship. It’s a coaching relationship. It’s different from mentoring. It’s really an active relationship, identifying together the goals the student wants to work toward,” Davis said. “Coaches help stimulate [students’] think about goals they might be working toward and help students identify what might get in the way of the things they want to achieve. »

By using the Academic peer support for successor PASS, coaching model, peer coaches meet with students approximately every week, on average, over two semesters.

“For these students, not being able to manage increased stress with effective coping mechanisms may spur worsening symptoms. While PASS is not designed to provide mental health treatment, it is designed for help them cope and be resilient, which can basically help their mental health stay stable,” Davis said.

Nearly 200 students are taking part in the study, which launched in September 2020 and is in its final year of recruitment.

TheTransitions to Adulthood Research Centerin partnership with young adults with lived experience of college and mental health issues, collaborated with Boston University and provided stakeholder feedback from an open-label trial conducted during the academic year 2017-2018 which peer reviewed the approach and confirmed the promise of PASS.

UMass Chan staff recruited participants, conducted interviews, and summarized results from the open-label trial. The PASS coaching model was refined using these findings to meet the needs of students with mental health issues affecting their studies. The model was developed by Paul Cherchia, LMHC, and Dori Hutchinson, ScD, at the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences inBoston University.

The ongoing trial is funded by a $4.37 million grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Cherchia and Dr. Hutchinson are co-investigators on the study, which will continue through 2024.

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