A Peer Supporter answers your questions for University Mental Health Day

The Students Association Peer Supporters do an amazing job supporting students who reach out to them for assistance.

The Students Association Peer Supporters do an amazing job supporting students who reach out to them for assistance. So far this year our Supporters have helped 78 students. 

We asked Peer Supporter Amy* a few questions to find out why she does what she does, the joys and challenges of being a volunteer Peer Supporter, and her advice to any student thinking about contacting the service.

How long have you been a Peer Supporter?
I have been a Peer Supporter for almost a year now.

What made you want to volunteer with the Peer Support service?
Through my years of studying with the OU and from my other volunteering roles with the OU Students Association, I gained a wealth of knowledge and experience about the OU, the Association and all the resources available to OU students. I wanted to share that knowledge and experience so that other people could benefit from it. I wanted to help other students and be a listening ear, as I know being an OU student can be quite lonely and overwhelming at times.The image shows one person giving assistance to another with work on a computer and on paper. What type of questions can people ask you?
People contact us for all sorts of things in relation to their studies. For instance, time management issues, balancing study, work and family life, falling behind, lack of confidence or motivation, dealing with (mental) health issues, stress, anxiety, feeling isolated, how to meet other OU students, questions about study skills, etc. We cannot provide academic support, but we can signpost students to available resources on, for instance, assignments, referencing, special circumstances, deferral, etc. We do not provide counselling either, but we can inform students about what mental health support is available to them.

Are there any challenges you face as a Peer Supporter?
It can be challenging when students contact us about a subject I have no knowledge about. However, thanks to my experience and the support of my colleagues, I am still able to help out those students. Another challenge is when we are confronted with safeguarding issues. Luckily, that rarely happens.

What is your favourite thing about being part of the Peer Support Service?
Being part of a wonderful team of Peer Supporters and, as a team, being able to help the students who contact us.
The image shows a team of five people having a discussions. Is there anything that lots of people are worried about and come to you for support about?
A lot of people contact us when they feel overwhelmed, when they have things going on in their life, when they are stressed, fall behind with their studies and think that they will fail. We are well prepared to deal with that type of situation.

Is there anything that has surprised you in your work as a Peer Supporter?
The range of questions we receive. It can go from people asking how they can access a forum to people asking for help because they are thinking about stopping studying.

What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a Peer Supporter?
I would say that to be a Peer Supporter, it is important to be an empathic person, to have knowledge about study skills and to be able to signpost students to the resources available to them through the OU and the OU Students Association. It is also important to have enough time to commit to the role, as we need to do weekly shifts and offer one-to-one support. It can seem frightening at first, but don’t worry about that! You will receive plenty of training, get a lot of support from the wonderful Peer Support admin staff as well as the Association Vice President Student Support and receive guidance from an experienced Peer Supporter who will be your buddy when you first start.

And what would you say to someone who is considering using the service?
Are you thinking about contacting Peer Support but are unsure if we can help? Just contact us anyway! Even if we cannot help you ourselves, we will be able to point you in the right direction. Are you worried that you will be a ‘burden’? Don’t worry! You will not be bothering us at all. We are here to help and be a listening ear.

Finally, what’s the best thing about being a Peer Supporter?
Being able to help other students and make a difference in their lives.

To find out more about Peer Support and how to access the service, visit the Peer Support page on the OU Students Association Website. 

Or to find out more about volunteering at the Students Association, visit the Volunteering page on the OU Students Association website.

*All our Peer Supporters are given pseudonyms to help maintain confidentiality and anonymity. Amy is this volunteer’s pseudonym.

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Tom Mitchell

Tom is a member of the Students Association staff team.


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