Peer Health Advisors, students, leaders, local business leaders and members of the Lehigh community participated in a video about how everyone has a shared responsibility to keep Lehigh safe during COVID-19. Peer Health Advisors are a group of students who help to advance the health and safety of the Lehigh community. (Courtesy of Hank Portney, '21, and Fusion Design Studio)

Peer Health Advisors continue to support students

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Student health at Lehigh has been a major concern since COVID-19 struck last year. With limited face-to-face interactions and virtual learning becoming the norm, many students are feeling the mental and physical effects of living through a pandemic. 

Lehigh’s Peer Health Advisors are a group of students trained to help and advance the health and safety of the Lehigh community. Peer Health focuses on healthy behavior, both mentally and physically, and offers guidance to any student who might need it. 

“Peer Health Advisors, in general, are here to give peer-to-peer support on health related issues, especially things that are more specific to college campuses, such as alcohol safety, STD awareness and overall wellness and mental health,” said Elizabeth Kolaski, club president. 

Peer Health Advisors usually plan events and presentations about these topics in order to promote healthy living and mental health. 

The past two semesters, however, have been different due to the pandemic. Like the rest of Lehigh, Peer Health was forced to adjust.

The Let’s Face It Campaign was a major push by the Peer Health Advisors to promote healthy living and learning during the pandemic. With limited access to campus, Peer Health wanted to bring the student body together in any way possible. 

“(We tried) to recognize what was going on and create a community spirit that we’re all in this together, and that kind of came in the form of the Let’s Face It Campaign,” Kolaski said. 

In the age of social media, the group thought a collaborative video would be inspiring to the Lehigh community.

“Our goal was to unite the student body amidst the pandemic,” said Sarina Shah, recruitment chair and next year’s co-president.  “We understood that students would be taking classes from everywhere and that the last two semesters would not look the same as they had in the past.”  

Shah said students supporting each other has been imperative during this challenging year.

Another primary project done by Peer Health Advisors this year was their Headspace initiative. 

Headspace is a meditation app that guides and teaches people how to be more mindful and less stressed. 

The advisors established a partnership with Headspace in order to enable students with an outlet outside their normal routine. Headspace offers guided meditation, sleep instruction, stress management and other services.

“Lehigh really wants to help their students improve their mental health as best they can, and we’re hoping what the school can do further is having teachers engage with the Headspace app,” said Emily Cooper, programming executive chair and next year’s other co-president. “We want Lehigh’s culture to promote mental health and student’s overall health, and since we’re providing these unique ideas, Lehigh will support us in making it more widespread on campus.”

Although the Headspace initiative and Let’s Face It Campaign are positive steps, some students have questioned Lehigh’s support of student health in the past year. Some have experienced pandemic-related mental and physical health problems and feel university resources have not been sufficient. 

“I think (Lehigh) could do a better job of providing resources to kids and making sure that kids actually utilize and know what those resources are,” Kolaski said.  “I think that the resources here exist, they just don’t reach the people that need them.”  

Different campus groups, like Peer Health Advisors, have provided students with some resources, but some want the university to take more action. 

“In general, I think student’s mental health has been poor,” Kolaski said. “ As for the university, I don’t feel like I’ve really felt any support for my mental health. As a whole, the campus response and support has been lacking.”

With Wellness Week in the rearview, students are looking forward to the final weeks of this academic year. Peer Health Advisors aims to promote and support healthy behavior to help the Lehigh community feel safe.

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