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New digital peer-to-peer counseling service for ISU

 An emblem on a beige brick wall reads Illinois State University, gladly we learn and teach. A staircase is in the background.
Emily Bollinger

Illinois State University launched another counseling service for the community recently. It’s called Togetherall, and it’s a digital platform that mainly provides opportunities for peer support.

Togetherall is also available to everyone at ISU free-of-charge.

Registration information can be found on the ISU website.

ISU’s Director of Health Promotion and Wellness Nikki Bauer tells WGLT about the service.

WGLT: What is Togetherall?

Bauer: Togetherall is a online, and it's a peer-to-peer platform. So it's intended for those that are using the system, or the portal, as we like to say, to support one another. So a student could go in and they could ask for advice, or they might give advice to someone in the system. And they could be speaking with anyone across the country. There are many schools that use the Togetherall platform, and so they could be speaking to somebody from California. I will say that the profile that they provide is anonymous, but they do have to give their Illinois State email address, so we need to be able to connect them in case they're in distress. And we need to get with them and get different resources, if that makes sense. There are "wall guides" within the system. And they might see language or flag a few words, and they might be concerned and so they will directly message the student.

And how did ISU determine that Togetherall should be a service provided here? I understand there are other you know, counseling opportunities. How does this supplement those and why Togetherall?

So it's actually a shared project with our wellbeing departments, that we all decided that this would be a great opportunity to use as support for our students, anytime. It's at a time when they could use it, so that could be at 1 a.m. when the counseling center is not open, or Health Promotion and Wellness is not open, say for wellness coaching, or, you know, things like that. We were looking always at ways to support our community in different ways, because folks need different things. Not everybody is going to reach out to the counseling center. At first, they might notice a little bit of discomfort. We're looking for ways that might reach folks and just support them day to day.

I'm wondering if you can flesh out for me how that actually works. What does that look like? If you or I were to go into the service — the app, what have you on our phones or laptops — [what] would that process look like?

When you first log in, Togetherall will ask you if you're a student or a staff member, they'll also ask you if you're at a university, and you just say yes. And then you kind of go to the next level. You'll create a name for yourself and use your institution's email and then go in and just start looking around. And so you can look at discussions going on. Some students — which I think is a really neat thing — is they like to express themselves with art. There is a function called [Bricks] where they can go in and they can write things, they can draw, and provide just, you know, expression in that manner as well. There's also tools in there that you could like self-assessment tools, and then just self-study could read some modules on anxiety or depression, or just stress.

And you also mentioned that there are built in you call them "wall guides," who can check in with students where necessary in cases of crisis in cases of emergency, I'm wondering as well, in addition to that, are there any ways that from the university perspective, from the administrative almost perspective, you'll be looking at this or or tracking, I guess, usage? What sort of is ultimate goals here?

Well, we don't have ultimate numbers that we're trying to attain. We’re hoping to increase usage as the students are made aware of Togetherall's presence here and availability. And so like right now, I just checked the other day, we have 112 unique users. And so that's kind of exciting. And so with a myriad of questions and comments in there, right. So that's kind of nice to see. But we do get reports from Togetherall, so we can actually track student usage or whoever, and just see what they're reaching out for. We can also see if somebody needs additional support, and so on and so forth. But Togetherall’s "wall guides" there, they're all licensed mental health professionals, and so they are familiar with the ISU services. So they can connect with us in case one of our students needs additional help or needs someone to go check on them or something like that.

Togetherall is the latest addition to the numerous mental health and wellness resources already provided to the ISU community. Other opportunities for counseling and self-care are listed on the Redbird Well portal.

Additional services include WellTrack Boost, another online tool for self-help. There are also in-person counseling options both at ISU and for referral.

For anyone needing immediate help, there is always the national Suicide and Crisis Line 988.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. WGLT’s mental health coverage is made possible in part by Report For America and Chestnut Health Systems. Please take a moment to donate now and add your financial support to fully fund this growing coverage area so we can continue to serve the community.

Melissa Ellin is a reporter at WGLT and a Report for America corps member, focused on mental health coverage.
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