Peer educators teach students about the Blues

Alexandra Brell

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[audio:https://sundial.csun.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/TBP_AB-11.mp3|titles=The Blues Project by Alexandra Brell]

Vaheh Hartoonian, 20, is a English/Communications double major who is also the student assistant to the Project Blues program. His responsibilities, among other things, include managing presentations, leading class sessions, and manage all fundraising events. Ryan Hecksel / Staff Photographer

Vaheh Hartoonian was running late for his geography class a year and a half ago. There was a special presentation that day, but the English and communications double major only caught the last 30 seconds of it. However, he was still intrigued.

“When I saw Blues I thought it was about music. So I kind of got into it,” Hartoonian said. “I went and got the flyer and I found out it was something different.”

The Blues Project is a peer-education program. It is offered by CSUN University Counseling Services (UCS).

The program uses CSUN student facilitators, or “peer educators” who volunteer their time or receive up to three units of credit a semester. Peer educators conduct presentations in campus classrooms, as well as in surrounding community colleges, high schools and middle schools.

According to program director Dr. Marshall Bloom, peer educators have reached over 3,000 students in more than 100 classrooms, teaching about the warning signs of depression and suicidal behavior, and how to help those who are afflicted.

“Our model is prevention; it’s proactive prevention,” Bloom said. “We want to get the message out before the crisis.”

Bloom, who has been with UCS for over 30 years, said the program was introduced in 1990 and modeled after a program from the University of Florida. Originally called the Suicide/Depression Prevention Project, it changed its name four years ago to The Blues Project, for a more approachable and less clinical feel.

Hartoonian is the student assistant for Bloom. He focuses on training peer educators while also handling logistics for the presentations. He was a peer educator last year.

Hartoonian said training generally takes five to seven weeks, with students working in pairs or with a student-mentor who is returning to the program. Students practice their presentation with Bloom and Hartoonian, as well as present several times in front of the volunteer group.

“Our goal is that by the time they leave this room, they are the most prepared they can possibly be,” Hartoonian said.

The Blues Project has 59 peer educators with over half of those returning from previous semesters.

Students interested in becoming peer educators need to complete an application and go through a pre-screening process to ensure they are a good fit for the program.

Registration for the fall 2010 semester should be completed at least a couple weeks before the semester starts, Hartoonian said.

The Web site and volunteer application for The Blues Project can be found at http://www.csun.edu/counseling/peer/blues.htm. The phone number is (818) 677-2366.