By Owen Denker | February 6, 2023
Photo from Middle Earth’s first meeting of the Spring 2023 semester.
Photo Credit: Middle Earth / @ualbanymiddleearth
Mental health is a subject surrounded by stigma and many would argue lacks the attention it deserves. However, at the University at Albany Middle Earth combats this neglect through peer counseling and education. Perhaps the most widely utilized resource is the organization’s Peer Assistance Hotline that operates during the fall and spring semesters.
While based at UAlbany, they’re available to any SUNY student that is looking for help with everything from helping students struggling to adjust to college life to those seeking assistance with addiction.
Isis Chernak, Middle Earth’s Diversity and Equity Chair, said, “We have peer educated students that they talk to about their issues. We moreso guide them with our questions [...] and we give them resources on what they should do.”
Their peer counselors are screened through an interview process, and then undergo six hours of training, including roleplay scenarios.
The organization has been in operation for over fifty years. It was started by one student in 1970 as a safe space for students battling drug addiction. Over the years, the program has grown in size and slowly became the thriving professional organization it is today. While Middle Earth suffered a slump during COVID, they’ve gained their footing once more.
“Over this last application cycle, we’ve got the most applications that we’ve ever had [in a very long time] [...] We’re definitely getting our name out there a lot more,” Chernak said.
But when it comes to mental health, Hudy Berger, the organization’s Vice President, said there is always more work to do.
“[A] big thing that we wanna get more out there into our community, still breaking stigmas. Even though we’ve come a long way, there are still a lot of stigmas regarding mental health and a lot of people are not too educated on the resources and what mental health is. I think a huge problem is lack of education regarding mental health,” Berger said. “You don’t learn it in high school, you don’t learn it from your family.”
Berger believes that education, continuing to do what they do on a daily basis, is the only way the culture surrounding mental health is going to change.
“I would say that mental health is something we should all prioritize,” Chernak said. “It’s something that we all go through, whether we struggle with it, or we’re good with it, it is always good to know that resources like us exist for people who don’t have the resources to go out and get professional help on their own or maybe who don’t feel comfortable talking to someone who isn’t their peer. So, just knowing that we exist, that we’re here not only ourselves, but the community as a whole, is a plus.”
Berger emphasized the importance of self-care. “It’s harder to keep a good mental state [without self-care]. We should be doing that every day, having time for ourselves, away from school. [...] We are the college generation, that age is the most prone to depression and anxiety.”
For other mental health needs, Middle Earth recommends UAlbany’s Counseling & Psychological Services, a clinical psychology service that is free to students, and the Collegiate Recovery Program that serves UAlbany students seeking help with addiction recovery.
Students can reach Middle Earth’s hotline at 518-442-5777 between 1 p.m. and midnight Monday through Thursday, and 24 hours a day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, or they can leave a message any time and ask for a call back. The hotline is a confidential service. SUNY Albany can also look forward to the Mental Health Fair coming later this year.
For those interested in volunteering, it’s not just for those seeking a career path in the mental health field, it’s open to any undergraduate student that wants to help people.
“It really doesn’t matter what major you can benefit from because you really just learn how to talk to people, listen, just be a better person–it definitely does benefit everyone,” Berger said. “Even if you’re not a psych person, it’ll help you in any profession.”
For more information, visit the Middle Earth Linktree.