The Support Network

Max Rothman and Sam Orley.
United States
A model to help address and promote student mental health and well-being through the implementation of peer support initiatives in high schools and colleges to empower students and create inclusive communities.
What solution does the innovation propose?

To transform existing campus cultures around mental health by eliminating harsh social stigmas, financial burdens and accessibility inconveniences often associated with mental health resources and help-seeking. It does so through weekly, peer-facilitated groups and stress-busting community events. Prior to their existence, there was no holistic peer-to-peer support programme offered at universities in the United States. 

Research shows that students are the most potent source of influence on other students’ affective and cognitive growth. Still, student-led programming at universities to overcome stigma and facilitate empathetic peer-to-peer dialogue is rare. Enabling safe, and inclusive spaces for students to meet weekly and engage in honest, vulnerable, dialogues transcending existing social norms, contributes to strengthening the student’s community, and to influencing mental health advocacy. 

Also, due to financial burden, students often face hurdles to counselling appointments, therapy or even alternative activities that can help improve mental health which is why the sessions and events are free.

To address accessibility inconveniences and busy schedules the numerous meetings are held at various locations and times across campus, and an in-house developed software program allows to distribute students in groups based on time and location preferences.


JED Foundation’s Student Voice of Mental Health Award. Advisors, Sam Orley and Max Rothman (2018). Mental Health America’s Collegiate 2017-2018 Mental Health Innovation Council Members and featured programme. The University of Michigan Depression Center’s Student Mental Health Advocate Award. Executive Director, Sam Orley (2018).

Impact evidence

  • Across each current college campus, there have been more than 500 student participants at the University of Michigan, more than 150 participants at the University of Cincinnati, and more than 50 participants at Michigan State University.
  • As a result of The Support Network’s student-led initiatives, nearly 100,000 students (across three universities) are offered a consistent, causal, and cost-free space to connect with their peers through a combination of in-person support groups led by trained students and bi-weekly social event.

In an analysis conducted at the Wolverine Support Network at the University of Michigan in 2015, student Members reported that as a result of their membership:

  • 74% felt they are better equipped to take charge of their personal mental health and well-being
  • 76% felt they are better able to share sensitive topics with others
  • 65% felt they are better able to support others without additional emotional or physical strain to themselves
  • 81% felt they are better able to understand and empathize with others

Also, more than 40 Higher Education Institutions have shown interest in adopting the model.

How does it work?

This umbrella non-profit organisation advises the initial launch, development and cross-campus collaboration of the Campus Support Networks model at universities. To launch a new network, an initial interview with interested universities is conducted to determine the level of commitment and support. Once it is determined that students have adequate support, an Expansion Agreement is signed to ensure accountability and model integrity.

Their blueprint, a comprehensive implementation instruction manual, provides guidance for leadership, community organizing and collaboration with staff, to facilitate support groups and bi-weekly events. The teams leading each campus group are supported through the blueprint, monthly emails, ongoing check-in, and conversations using an online platform. They are also supported in administering, collecting, and analysing member pre- and post-participation data to evaluate engagement, effectiveness of leaders, and the program in general.

At the campus level, students can be involved with the organization as members, leaders or directors. Members are students who sign-up for a Weekly Support Group (WSG) 1-hour meeting with a consistent and diverse group (6 to10 students), in an inclusive and engaging space, as well as for bi-weekly events. Leaders are responsible for creating accessible, inclusive support groups that promote engaging dialogue for all students at the university. To equip selected leaders with necessary facilitation and leadership skills, students are trained and prepared by other campus resources to address more challenging topics. An off-campus retreat is held each year to begin the training process for the student facilitators in addition to weekly training sessions throughout the year. Lastly, directors help oversee the operations and development of the organization and manage various on and off-campus stakeholder relationships.

Geographical scope

Where was initially developed
Michigan (United States).
Where has been implemented so far
Five other campuses and one high school in five different states.
Last updated: 
September 2020

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Estándares Upsocial

Innovation type

Innovación de reformulación

Reinventing innovation
Strength of the evidence

Evidencia prometedora

Promising evidence
Adaptation experience

Adaptación regional

Regional adaptation

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Sustainable Development Goals