UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Peer Support Evaluation

We are evaluating an element of our peer support model, provided by peer link workers, to work out whether it could help support students at UCL.

What is peer support?

Many university students experiencing mental health difficulties may face barriers to accessing professional support or may prefer to speak with a fellow student about their difficulties. Peer support schemes build capacity to enable students to help each other. This approach emphasises empathetic active listening - person-to-person - to understand each other's experiences, and, where relevant, signposting to other forms of support. PsychUP for Wellbeing is evaluating the implementation of this model, which is being led by Students' Union UCL. 

What is being evaluated?

Alongside looking at the outcomes of peer support in this pilot, we are focussing on:

  • Feasibility - how viable is it to implement more widely?
  • Acceptability - do students like it, and if so, which aspects and why?
  • Safety - how can we make sure it is as safe as possible for all students involved?

How is it being evaluated?

Students receiving support will be invited to answer questionnaires about their social support, wellbeing and mental health. Follow-up questions will inquire about the support they received, such as the number of sessions and what these involved. They may participate in qualitative interviews lasting up to an hour, where their rich, personal perspectives are invited. Students delivering support will participate in focus groups to discuss their experiences and views on what went well and what could be improved.

Why is it being evaluated?

The study aims to understand student perspectives on how well initial peer support provisions address current needs, and what needs it should evolve to meet in future. Honing peer support will empower students to play active roles in enhancing the mental health of their university communities; widening the availability of fast-accessed support; and building easier connections to health services.

Who is involved?

This research is being conducted by PsychUP for Wellbeing PhD student Tom Osborn. You can find out more about Tom's work here and follow him on Twitter here. 

What is this type of research?

This is a feasibility and acceptability study. 

What are they for?

These studies are for assessing how smoothly and effectively an intervention or larger study will run, to gauge its viability on a wider scale. As the name suggests, they are interested in how feasible and acceptable the study or intervention being tested appears. In other words, we want to know if it works and if people like it. 

How do they work?

Whether calibrating an intervention (such as a new mode of student support) or a larger study, feasibility and acceptability studies run in miniature. They check whether its components function well: from recruitment and retention to implementation and assessment. A mix of quantitative (e.g. questionnaire) and qualitative (e.g. interview) methods may be used, which, respectively, can evaluate barriers to participation and approval, as well as facilitate more detailed exploration of participants' experiences.