SPILL is a great best friendSometimes you just need to spill your guts. But what do you do if there’s no one to listen?
Sometimes you just need to spill your guts. But what do you do if there’s no one to listen?
Heidi Allstop of Alexandria, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM), knows firsthand that feeling. Last December, the end of the first semester of her junior year, she was feeling alone and needed someone to talk to. She didn’t want to bother her college friends with her problems at finals time.
“Everyone is so busy, you don’t want to take people’s time to whine about things,” she said.
That’s when she thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to vent online anonymously and have other students who have related to the problem give you feedback?”
That was the beginning of Supporting Peers in Laidback Listening (SPILL), an anonymous, non-judgmental support system made up of, and for, UWM students struggling with common college issues. SPILL is an e-mail-based support system that provides peer-to-peer support away from a clinical setting that gives students an outlet to talk about their problems.
Students who write in, called Spillers, are matched up with student facilitators who have dealt with similar past challenges. The Spillers log in anonymously and can “talk” through e-mail to a facilitator about any issue they are struggling with, such as eating disorders, abusive relationships, divorce, roommate problems, family issues, drug/alcohol overindulgence, sexual health, loneliness/homesickness. The facilitators are also there if the Spiller just needs a friend or someone to talk to.
“It’s like the perfect best friend,” Allstop said.
After coming up with the idea, Allstop filled out an application for SPILL to be considered a student organization. When it was accepted, she solicited volunteers. The response was overwhelming.
Of those volunteers, Allstop chose an eight-person executive board. With their help, Allstop set up the confidential website and peer counseling e-mail system, which has a screening process to ensure no identities are revealed.
Each volunteer facilitator must read a manual written by Allstop and another board member, and then take a test on the material. The facilitators each find his or her own area in which they have some experience to assist Spillers. The facilitators can also refer Spillers to various campus resources if the problems warrant it.
Last spring, Allstop was presented an award for “excellence in innovation” from UWM. The award recognizes a student organization that has created a new program, event or organization that has benefitted the campus. The organization was also featured on a local news broadcast.
Since its debut at the beginning of this school year, SPILL has already had several UWM students turn to it for help – with positive feedback.
Allstop hopes that someday she can bring the program to other colleges.
“I would like people to not have to bottle up everything inside,” Allstop concluded. “I want them to know that there are people who want to talk and want to listen.”