A new student-operated texting platform called DukeLine has a single goal: improving the mental health of students through quick peer response. Managed by a team of 21 Duke undergraduates, the program provides anonymous peer support within minutes of outreach.

“There are a lot of barriers to students reaching out for help, including personal shame, skepticism about effectiveness and concerns about being misunderstood,” said Nancy Zucker, an associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences who advises the program. “Texting a trained peer is a low-stakes option for a student to test what it feels like to share something vulnerable — and to have that experience be helpful and meaningful.”

Zucker supervises the DukeLine program and teaches a semester-long peer coaching course that all students participating in DukeLine are required to complete. With help from a Bass Connections team, she also developed a develop a high-quality, customized database that the peer coaches can search in real time while providing support.

Peer support programs have been gaining in popularity on college campuses. They can offer an important supplement to more formal, professional options, said Sarah Gaither, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience.

 “This program is not intended to replace any existing resources for Duke students,” said Gaither, a DukeLine faculty adviser. “But it is a great option for students who don’t necessarily need formal psychiatry or clinical help, and also want access to free, anonymous support from someone they feel can understand the student experience.”