Georgetown’s first online peer-to-peer support service, Project Lighthouse has grown since it was founded last April.
Created in partnership with Georgetown’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services, Health Education Services and the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Health, the initiative for the program was announced in January 2016.
Director of Education of Project Lighthouse Leanna Syrimis (SFS ’18) said she was enthusiastic about Project Lighthouse’s progress, which has included the training of peer supporters, who are all student volunteers.
“Last January, we were just beginning to train our first class of peer supporters and hadn’t yet launched our website,” Syrimis said. “It is incredible to me that in such a short period of time, we have built this organization from the ground up — not only by training peer supporters but also by creating our website, building our institutional memory and also developing our own Georgetown-specific curriculum.”
Project Lighthouse believes that one’s time at college is analogous to one’s time at sea. Some days may feel like smooth sailing, and others may feel rougher and more ominous. The service seeks to be a stable, fixed spot for students, always available and reliable in times of need, just as a lighthouse is for sailors.
Through Project Lighthouse, students are provided with an easily accessible outlet to chat anonymously with their fellow trained peers about various issues and possible helpful resources. Some of the most common mental health issues detected are panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, bulimia, anorexia nervosa, substance-related disorders and attention deficit disorder.
A large portion of the Project Lighthouse chats are related to general stress, academic stress, relationship issues, career anxiety and social isolation. The chat sessions are open from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily and are completely anonymous and confidential. Project Lighthouse staff members have no way of tracking students; they only know what students choose to tell them.
Since its launch, Project Lighthouse has supported over 200 Georgetown students. The program, however, hopes to increase its advertising. Since most people learn about Project Lighthouse through word of mouth, many sections of the student body have never heard of the service. This semester, Project Lighthouse will be piloting a mentorship program to encourage more community interaction and growth.
Carol Day, Director of Health Education Services, wrote in an email to The Hoya that Project Lighthouse gives Georgetown students a gateway to campus mental health resources.
“They are serving as a resource that provides students with an access point for students to get help with issues and, as needed, to get referrals to health professionals and additional support whether those resources are on campus, in the community or online,” Day wrote.
Executive Director of Project Lighthouse Will Emery (COL ’19) said that, although students may initially come to Project Lighthouse for specific issues like academic stress, they often build on their conversations.
“Often, the conversation expands to reflect on broader thoughts about the person’s life. This happens when they recognize they have the opportunity to discuss their deeper thoughts in an accepting and nonjudgmental environment,” Emery said.
Although peer supporters need to fill out an application, Project Lighthouse aims to be as inclusive as possible. Syrimis said the training for Project Lighthouse, which involves 25 hours of intensive theme and skilled-based activities, focuses on the culture of the Hilltop. In order to ensure that the Peer Supporters are providing the best possible care, Project Lighthouse maintains an intensive chat audit system.
“We train volunteers to be peer supporters, a position which involves a general awareness of mental health issues on campus, knowledgeability of on-campus and local D.C. resources and a broad skill set which includes unconditional positive regard, active listening, validation of emotions and reflecting and question-asking skills,” Syrimis said.
Syrimis also said that these peer supporters are incredibly sympathetic and always willing to help in any way possible.
“I am continuously blown away at the overwhelming sense of service, integrity, empathy and compassion that our trainees and peer supporters alike radiate,” Syrimis said. “Think of the kindest person in your friend group who is always looking to ways to help out. Project Lighthouse is a whole club full of these people.”
Emery said that those at Project Lighthouse want Georgetown students to know that any problem is important and worth talking about, no matter how small or trivial it may seem.