Student-led mental health program Project Lighthouse officially launched its anonymous online chat service Sunday, responding to 25 students’ messages on its first day of operations.
The new service, available from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, connects students with student peer supporters to discuss issues ranging from stress and sleep problems to thoughts of self-harm.
The peer supporters, who underwent over 40 hours of training, are trained to actively listen to students and refer them to mental health resources such as Counseling and Psychiatric Services and Health Education Services.
According to Project Lighthouse Executive Director Benjamin Johnson (NHS ’17), the spring semester launch is a soft opening that will run for two weeks until May 6, before it relaunches in the fall semester with additional peer supporters.
Johnson said the program’s first night was a success.
“Almost everyone who chatted in was successfully referred to appropriate on-campus or off-campus resources,” Johnson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We really didn’t know what to expect for our first night, but are encouraged that initial results point to this being a much-needed resource for Georgetown.”
Johnson said Project Lighthouse’s launch post on Facebook reached around 5,700 people, while its website received 350 unique visitors.
“Our current goals are just getting our operations smooth with the continued training of supporters, and planning for our full launch in the fall semester,” Johnson wrote.
The name of Project Lighthouse is meant to symbolize the service’s goal of guiding people to mental health resources, and it was initially launched by the Georgetown University Student Association Mental Health Committee in January of this year in order to better connect students with mental health services and lessen the workload for CAPS and other university services. CAPS has been criticized for being unable to provide timely services to students in need.
The project, while being student-led, is supported by GUSA, CAPS, HES and other university departments.
According to Johnson, Project Lighthouse serves as a supportive listening resource rather than a counseling service or a crisis-intervention service.
“I personally see Project Lighthouse as the ‘first line’ for mental health on campus — it’s very approachable, very easy to access, and can serve as a portal to figuring out which on-campus resource would be most effective,” Johnson wrote.
GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) said she is excited about the potential of the new service.
“We are super excited about the launch of Project Lighthouse,” Khan said. “We hope that this new peer-to-peer resource will serve as an easy way for students to seek support or talk about any issue.”
Khan said the service’s anonymity is a major advantage for students who want to speak to a peer supporter.
“The anonymity factor helps students who feel uncomfortable sharing their identities when talking about mental health,” Khan said.
GUSA Mental Health Policy Team Chair Sylvia Levy (SFS ’18), who works with the Project Lighthouse team, said the program aims to reach all students.
“This incredible resource is going to make sure that Georgetown students don’t fall through the cracks,” Levy wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I think we’re well on our way to really helping Georgetown become a more mentally healthy campus. Our peer supporters, who have been through 40-plus hours of training, are really fantastic and are undoubtedly making a difference.”
Student Chair of the Mental Health Advisory Board William Emery (COL ’19) said Project Lighthouse fulfills one of the MHAB’s ongoing recommendations to improve campus mental health resources. The MHAB consists of students and staff from across the university.
“One way the MHAB has identified improvement is in increasing student awareness of the resources available to them. Project Lighthouse goes a long way towards making those improvements,” Emery wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Emery said the program’s unique structure builds confidence with students.
“Project Lighthouse volunteers are not just there for support; they are trained in on-campus and off-campus resources — and not only for mental health,” Emery wrote. “Instead of a student having to try to figure out where to go alone, a Project Lighthouse volunteer can talk with them about the available resources and provide them with the contact information for those resources.”
Levy said she hopes Project Lighthouse expands to other campuses. Cornell University currently operates a similar service, called the Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service.
“In the future, I hope we can increase student knowledge of our program and continue to attract talented, passionate people who would like to train to be Project Lighthouse Peer Supporters,” Levy wrote. “Hopefully other colleges and universities will be interested in the work we’re doing and consider starting their own Project Lighthouse chapters.”
Khan said she hopes the launch is a step toward a cultural shift regarding mental health on campus.
“As a community, we can best support each other by being empathetic. Project Lighthouse is proof that we as students are here for one another.” Khan said. “Project Lighthouse is a major step towards breaking the stigma around talking about mental health on our campus.”