As schools and communities scramble to find more ways to support the well-being of youth amid a pandemic-fueled mental health crisis, some think part of the answer lies with students helping other students.

The basic idea behind these peer support programs is straightforward: They rely on students trained to offer a listening ear to those who reach out, provide direct mentorship and guidance, or spot struggling students and help connect them with an adult or professional resources.

Many people — especially students — want to see more licensed mental health experts in schools, but finding enough trained professionals takes time and money. And while peer support systems aren’t meant to replace trained adults equipped to handle severe issues, they can be a first line of early intervention and empowerment — though experts point out research on their effectiveness remains limited.

There’s no shortage of peer support programs to evaluate, and tools used to deploy them are evolving to become more professional and accessible in an increasingly digital world.

One example is Seattle’s Teen Link, a free phone line established in the 1990s that has since expanded to online chat and text messaging. Teens can talk with a trained teen volunteer about anything on their mind, and can call in or connect from anywhere in the country.

Stella Ruebel is a high school sophomore who has staffed the lines at Teen Link for more than a year because the program resonated with her values. “I have been struggling with different mental health things through my childhood … and knowing that people have helped me with my mental health, I want to help other people now,” she said.

Read the full article about peer counseling by Jeanie Lindsay at The Hechinger Report.