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Penn's i care training sessions, most recently held on April 1, teach attendees how to recognize stress, distress, and mental health issues. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Penn held a training session for students that aims to provide attendees with tools to aid fellow students in crisis.

The University's i care training sessions, which began in spring 2014, teach attendees how to recognize stress, distress, and mental health issues, as well as how to intervene in certain instances. The latest session was held on April 1 from 1 to 4 p.m. 

Alaina Spiegel, the Coordinator of Prevention Programs and staff psychologist with Wellness at Penn, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that i care has trained over 6,100 people since 2014, with a majority of those trained being students. This includes sessions held for faculty, staff, RAs, Wharton student leaders, and athletic coaches and trainers.

“These are the spaces where people can be vulnerable, talk about the skills, [and] practice the skills, but also share their own feelings and reactions, and even questions about the Counseling Center in these small groups,” Spiegel said.

The i care program was implemented in response to a series of student deaths by suicide in 2013 and 2014. Spiegel told the DP that 96 percent of attendees to i care training sessions have reported high satisfaction.

A 2018 study conducted by Penn-affiliated researchers found that attendees of i care retain attitudes, knowledge, and use of skills from the training up to 15 months after the training. A similar 2022 study found that these skills are being used in real life by attendees. 

While other gatekeeper training programs are held at other national universities, i care is a Penn-specific program.

“The nice thing about i care is that it was developed specifically for Penn. Mental health professionals at the Counseling Center developed it and tailored it to the Penn community,” Spiegel said. “So we include a lot of Penn humor and content, and we try to make it a fit for our population and our community — and professionals around the country have reached out to us to learn more about our modality and how we train our community.”

Spiegel provided the DP with a statement detailing the successes of the recent training session.

“The April 1st i care training was a big success, bringing together around 50 undergraduate and graduate students from all over Penn, as well as a group of peer mentors from Penn’s College Achievement Program,” Spiegel wrote. “The students demonstrated so much openness and vulnerability throughout the training, whether we were having conversations about mental health or practicing active listening and intervention skills during the role-plays.”

While i care used to be a full-day, eight-hour training program, it now consists of three hours with a thirty-minute online module. The program also recently added a video called i share, which details how to build awareness for one’s own distress and reach out for support.

In addition to Wellness at Penn, the i care training encourages people to call the counseling number 215-898-7021 to speak to a clinician for personal help or to share concern about another individual.