Lean on Me

By Stella Haffner   |   April 5, 2022
Lean on Me UCSB Chapter President Jamie Osuna

A 2007 study from the Community College Journal of Research and Practice noted that 87% of students surveyed were experiencing moderate to high levels of stress. To cope, students reported enjoying exercise and talking to friends, but cited that they would often use alcohol, cigarettes, and hard drugs to self-medicate. Given our understanding of the role public stigma plays in students’ willingness to seek counseling, this is not surprising.

But these results tell us something else: College students want to help themselves. They care about improving their mental health. Therefore, if they’re not seeking out counseling, it is clear that we need to make these services easier to access. And that is exactly what a motivated group of MIT students aimed to do when they created Lean on Me.

Lean on Me is a peer support network that runs over text. Established in 2015, Lean on Me has spread to 11 other universities nationally, including the University of California, Santa Barbara. To learn more about the peer support network and its operations, I spoke to chapter president, Jamie Osuna

Q. How did you get involved with Lean on Me?

A. Our UCSB chapter was established in 2018, and I got involved in 2019. Funny enough, one of our chapter founders lived just down the hall from me in my freshman year. I guess once you have the desire to be in the mental health field, you all kind of want to build connections with each other, so I decided to interview. I’ve been in it for almost three years now. 

What has your experience been working with Lean on Me?

I love it. I think it’s just a great resource in general to have on campus, especially since mental health resources in general aren’t super accessible. Lean on Me serves as a step towards mental health resource access, especially for people who don’t have a therapist or don’t know how to take the first step on their own. I also think Lean on Me is a good starting point for other types of conversations, not necessarily those you would be having with a therapist. A lot of what we talk about on the line is relationship based, sometimes people just wanting to rant about their significant other, or expressing concern about passing Chemistry 101. I really like having these conversations, which makes this a very rewarding experience for me, but I also enjoy being able to guide people to longer term mental health resources. 

In your mind, why is it important to have a student-run service?

I think there’s something about having people your age who get it. I feel like it’s easier for peers – we understand how hard it is, and a big part of our generation is very open about mental health; we know it’s a thing we should talk about. Also, complaining to your mom about Chemistry 101 isn’t going to mean much, but it is so, so relatable to someone who’s recently done it.

What would you like to see in terms of counseling services in general in California colleges?

I’d like to see more of it. I think California has a foot forward in terms of mental health service accessibility, but we still need more. 

Why have a peer-run service when you could have a university managed one?

I think university supervised services have their own perks, but in terms of accessibility, we’ve got to ask ourselves: How many people can actually use this resource? Sometimes it comes down to something like insurance or citizenship. I myself am a first-generation student, and I’ve learned that all the red tape to accessing mental health resources is very intimidating, especially for people of color and other first-generation students – having to fill out all the forms, finding out there’s a waitlist, learning what a co-pay is. But with Lean on Me, people can just text in and ask how to get started. That’s why it’s important to have these peer-run services; there simply aren’t the same barriers.

Lean on Me is a peer
support network that runs over text. Established in 2015, Lean on Me has spread to 11 other universities nationally, including the University of California, Santa Barbara.

What else should people know about Lean on Me?

We’re not a crisis line. We call it a warm line, that’s our cute little name for it. We’re not therapists, and we don’t want to overstep any kind of boundary. What we can do is offer grounded support, which is totally anonymous. We’ll never know you or judge you and you’ll never know us. And if you’re ready to access help from a counselor, we can help guide you.  

Call centers and peer support networks like Lean on Me represent the frontline in the mental health support spaces. These organizations play an important role in the lives of many young people, especially those in college. If you’re a UCSB student or know someone who needs to talk, the peer support hotline is available via text at (805) 874-5888. To donate to Lean on Me or to learn more, you can visit their website at lean0n.me


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