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U. adds new state initiative to on-campus mental health resources

Rutgers recently introduced Togetherall, a mental health program that works to establish peer-to-peer emotional support networks. – Photo by Alex Green / Pixels

All three Rutgers campuses recently joined the Togetherall peer support community, which operates under the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to provide undergraduate students mental health support services on the organization's platform, according to an announcement by Togetherall.

In November 2022, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) allocated $15 million to select colleges to identify collaborative opportunities that would improve infrastructure for student mental health resources, according to a press release.

Francesca Maresca, the University's assistant vice chancellor for health and wellness, said Togetherall equips students with support from clinically licensed mental health professionals and offers courses on mental health and sleep issues through its anonymous, online platform.

Togetherall addresses sources of student concern, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, substance abuse and sudden changes in life circumstances, according to the Togetherall page by Rutgers Student Health.

Rutgers' collaboration with Togetherall is part of the Academic Master Plan, Maresca said. The initiative, led by Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Francine Conway, lays out strategies for the University to accomplish its academic goals.

The plan outlines other similar initiatives like ScarletWell, which caters to the mental and physical well-being of University students, faculty and staff.

Maresca said Togetherall joins a selection of mental health resources available to students attending the New Brunswick campus, such as Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services and similar University health programs.

"Studies indicate that individuals often shy away from confiding in friends, family or health care providers," she said. "Togetherall serves as an additional support system for those seeking assistance, providing an environment in which members feel safe and supported while remaining anonymous."

Maresca said that 50 percent of individuals do not seek mental health assistance due to negative social connotations.

Togetherall promotes mutual support between students who may have comparable experiences, which is the purpose of the Trained Peer program. To become a Trained Peer, a student must participate in health and company-specific training, as well as clinician-surveilled discussions, according to a Togetherall article.

Ben Locke, the chief clinical officer for Togetherall, who has run the program since it was created, said in the Togetherall article that its Trained Peers program was inspired by research indicating the strength of diversely sourced peer support.

"So, one thing I really wish for people to begin thinking about and maybe swinging the pendulum the other way is, when you're feeling in distress, pause for a second and think about 'How can I engage with peers who have gone through this before?'" Locke said in the article.

Maresca said the state-funded collaboration between Rutgers and Togetherall will encourage students to establish peer support networks.

"We must do everything in our power to support youth mental health as we emerge from the pandemic and look towards the future," Murphy said in the release. "These grants will fund critical initiatives at our institutions of higher education to help address the mental health needs of New Jersey students."

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