Peer Coaches: Improving Mental Health Treatment for College Students (2020-2021)


There are significant barriers to the delivery and effectiveness of mental health services for college students. Barriers to seeking services include feelings of personal shame, feelings of ambiguity about the need for treatment and skepticism about treatment effectiveness. The traditional manner of service delivery may present another obstacle. Current models of therapy assume talking to someone in an office will lead to generalization of new skills outside of the office. Yet people often need coaching and support in the precise moment and circumstance that something challenging is unfolding.

Project Description

This project team will develop and pilot an innovative way to improve the mental health of students using anonymous peer coaches. Previous work on this project included implementing a new course, PSY319 Peer Coaching, which is the first full-time course to train students as mental health coaches. Peer coaches trained in this course also participated in a pilot peer coaching program in a single Duke dormitory. Previous team members also made headway on assessment of the program and the creation of a searchable database of resources for students in need.

In 2020-2021, the team will evaluate student experiences with the pilot project via questionnaires and focus groups. Information gathered from the evaluations will then inform a marketing campaign to promote the service to students. The program will expand to three first-year dormitories, and plans will be generated to secure long-term funding.   

Anticipated Outputs

Peer mental health program at Duke; PSY319 Peer Coaching course for training eligible students; spring practicum course; application for Duke students to anonymously text trained peers


  • Fall 2020: Relaunch peer health course and supervision practicum; collect and analyze pilot program feedback; finish instruction in qualitative coding; synthesize findings; create and launch marketing campaign; expand pilot of peer mental health coaching to three first-year dorms; assess mental health and burnout of peer health coaches
  • Spring 2021: Continue mental health practicum; continue monthly assessments of ongoing pilot program participants; continue pilot in three dorms; analyze data; present findings to Duke leadership

Team Outputs to Date

Team website


Jalisa Jackson

This Team in the News

Senior Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2021

Duke Innovates Together to Advance Health Care

‘In-the-Moment’ Mental Health Support for Students From Their Peers

Making Small Steps Toward Change, One Op-ed at a Time

See related teams, DukeLine: Peer Mental Health Support for Graduate Students (2021-2022) and Virtual Avatar Coaches: Improving Mental Health Treatment for College Students with Accessible Peer Support (2019-2020).

4 Easy Steps to Text DukeLine

Team Leaders

  • Sarah Gaither, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Guillermo Sapiro, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • Nancy Zucker, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

/graduate Team Members

  • Savannah Erwin, Psychology-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Jacqueline Cruz, Computer Science (BS)
  • Amber Fu
  • Jalisa Jackson, Psychology (AB), African/African Am St (AB2)
  • Leslie Leal Palacios, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Camden Nelson, Biology (BS)
  • Urmi Pandya, Psychology (BS)
  • Elizabeth Roy, Psychology (BS)
  • Brooke Scheinberg, Mathematics (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Jonathan Bae, School of Medicine-Medicine: General Internal Medicine
  • Gary Bennett, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Richard Chung, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Primary Care Pediatrics
  • David Goldston, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Timothy Strauman, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Sue Wasiolek, Student Affairs

/zcommunity Team Members

  • iCarol