Beyond your biases: a training module on implicit biases for peer mentors who work with college students with mental health conditions
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The prevalence and severity of mental health conditions experienced by students on college campuses has significantly grown in the last two decades (Lipson, Lattie, & Eisenberg, 2019). A serious mental health condition can be defined as a person, over the age of 18, that has a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that causes significant functional impairment and substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2019). The evidence-based research has documented that mental health conditions impact student functioning and wellbeing and are associated with lower grade point averages and a higher likelihood of dropping out of college. The consequences of low educational attainment are severe for students with mental health conditions as it has been associated with underemployment and unemployment (Hutchinson, 2016). Seeking help for mental health conditions is associated with increased student retention (O’Keefe, 2013) and failure to seek treatment is associated with a longer course of illness and increased rates of relapse (Hunt & Eisenberg, 2010). Two-thirds of college students indicate that when in distress, they will turn to their peers for support (American College Health Association, 2012). Colleges however often do not utilize peers who live successfully with mental health conditions to help address the academic demands and social challenges experienced by other students with mental health conditions. Additionally, college aged students often do not feel equipped to help peers in need (Morse & Schulze, 2013). One of the most significant critiques of existing peer mentor programs across college campuses is a lack of structured training for the peer mentors (Yomtov et al., 2017). Research on peer mentor programs has also demonstrated that implicit biases, which are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside of their conscious awareness, may have an impact on the mentor-mentee relationship and may contribute to disparities in engagement (UCSF Office of Diversity and Outreach, 2019). Beyond your Biases is an evidence-based, theory-driven training module for college aged peer mentors that addresses implicit biases. This two-hour training module, developed for this project, will be incorporated into the NITEO program at Boston University, a semester long program that supports young adults with mental health conditions to develop wellness tools, academic skills, resilience and work-readiness (BU Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 2019). Beyond your Biases will aim to educate peer mentors on the nature of implicit biases, challenge peer mentors to identify and acknowledge their own implicit biases, and help peer mentors to problem solve strategies to overcome their biases to best support the individual mentees. This module will better prepare mentors for their role and associated responsibilities, in order to more effectively support mentees as they navigate the complexities of the college environment. Although this module was developed for peer mentors of the NITEO program at Boston University, dissemination efforts will aim to promote incorporation of this module into other peer mentor programs across college campuses.