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McGill Peer Support Centre


Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Wordpress, focus groups, survey

From my first year up until my last year in university, I was involved in the management of the McGill Peer Support Centre. The PSC is a student run active listening and resource referral service for other students. My work spanned multiple portfolios - from marketing, to graphic design, to outreach, to program development, to operational management. In developing and spearheading the growth of the PSC, I found myself involved in what was ultimately, a complicated service design project - designing a service that functionally addressed the issues faced by college students.

The Problem

Professional mental health services are extremely limited and difficult to access for students in need on campus. We had to organize and promote what we believed to be a greatly needed service - a safe place for students to go to, have somebody to talk to, feel empowered, and feel understood. We also had to ensure that our service was designed such that it was inclusive and easily accessible, to combat the inaccessibility of professional services. 

User Profile: McGill Students

The target user of our services and designs are McGill Undergraduate and Graduate students. McGill students typically compose of high-functioning, overwhelmed, hyper-achievement oriented individuals. Generally, there are very high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression amongst both McGill and students at other universities, making a service like the PSC necessary.

According to the 2013 National College Health Assessment of McGill Students, 90% indicated feeling overwhelmed, 40% reported feeling so depressed it was hard to function, 56% felt overpowering anxiety, and 7% had considered suicide.

When counselling and psychiatric services are constantly overloaded with demand and not enough resources, and students feel helpless, we saw it as absolutely critical for the healthy functioning of our student body to create non-traditional, peer-led channels of support.

PHASE I: Functional Organizational Branding

In the summer of 2015, when the new executive team transitioned in, I was the Promotions and Outreach Coordinator. Our first project as a team was a complete rebranding of the organizational image to better convey the purpose of our service. This included three tasks.

1) Name Change

The PSC had formerly been known as the Peer Support Network. We decided that the term “Network” was not an accurate reflection of the nature of our organization, and went through multiple discussions to change the term to “Centre”. We believed this would better represent the structure of our organization, as one singular geospatial location for students to come to for support.

2) Logo re-design

We re-designed the logo to be a better symbolic representation of the nature of our services. I was in charge of the re-design. I created several mockups, went through multiple rounds of feedback implementation, until we created a final design for our logo.

The final design was chosen because the design implies conversation - a core element of our service. The conversational nature of the dual speech bubble motif embodies our organizational mission - that the PSC is a space where students can feel that they have somebody to talk to.

3) Social Media Re-launch

After completely rebranding our organizational name and logo, we did a complete overhaul of our social media presence with the creation of a new Facebook page. We believed in focusing on strengthening our social media presence for the 2015-16 school year, in the hopes of using the most widely used social platform to reach out to the largest and most diverse audience of McGill students. 

PHASE II: Reiterative Feedback

1) Website Building

In 2016, we became a student union service and we were given our own website hosted on the student union domain. When adding content and designing the interface for the website, we always kept in mind the needs of our target user - McGill students. We answered the following questions throughout our website:

How can they access us?

Where can they access us?

What is the support that they will receive?

How can they be involved?

Through informal feedback channels, we aggregated the concerns and questions from students regarding our service, and implemented information to address all of the above.

2) Feedback Surveys

As the PSC continued to grow and carve its niche in the support services landscape at McGill, we realized that the efficacy of our services was dependent on reiterative feedback and assessment of the needs of students. We conducted a Needs Assessment Survey in Fall 2016 - a multi-item questionnaire designed to capture the interests of the students and illuminate how students felt they could best receive support. We use this information when deciding on operational needs, and to address concerns students have about using the PSC.

3) Organizational Image Shift

From an organizational image perspective, we had been receiving colloquial feedback from multiple sources that our image was too “feminized”, and possibly discouraging other demographics such as males and students in more “masculine” disciplines from wanting to use our service. This prompted a marketing specific focus group.

In this focus group, we tested out a variety of promotional posters and social media posts across a group of students from diverse backgrounds, to see what elicited positive responses. From the feedback received, we tailored the language and content used in our social media marketing accordingly.

PHASE III: Continuous Development

Photo credit: Connie Luu

Eventually, I moved on from my role as the Promotions and Outreach Coordinator to the Chair of Operations for the organization. In my current role, I work extensively with the Program Evaluation Coordinator to parse through our usage statistics and demographics data in order to maintain or improve the functioning of the organization. These statistics allow us to make informed decisions about how to expand our service, and suggest feedback for volunteer training.

Currently, we have conducted another Needs Assessment Survey, this time focusing on the target user of graduate students who we feel may be limited in their ability to access our service. With this new set of data, we are planning a pilot program for graduate students that may help them overcome their unique barriers to peer support.

Over the ~3 years that I have been involved, our minute and sometimes tedious efforts eliciting feedback, researching user needs, and incorporating necessary changes into the overall function and design of our service have paid off. Between 600-700 sessions have been conducted since 2016, and the numbers continue to grow. In our promotions, our Facebook outreach has grown over 200%. 91% of student users feel understood by their peer supporter. The McGill Counselling service consistently makes referrals to PSC for students seeking mental health support. We have received many accolades for the support we provide on campus and users of the service continuously provide positive feedback on their experience at the PSC. 

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