While May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Southern Illinois University Carbondale is helping students and the community with mental health needs throughout the year, said Jaime Clark, director of Student Health Services.

Clark said SIU has secured funding from multiple sources to offer help, including grants and appropriations from the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

“We are taking a holistic view of mental health,” said Clark, who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology.

“There are so many factors and components that go together to make up our lives, and we are trying to address the various components in multiple ways.”

SIU is also taking extra steps to address problems and issues that exacerbate stress in students and lead to other problems.

HEROES program established

SIU has started its multitiered HEROES program (Higher Education Resources and Opportunities for Salukis in Need), and its headquarters are on the lower level of the Student Center, near the existing Saluki Food Pantry. Students will be able to pick up a variety of essential supplies, including sheets, towels, small microwaves and refrigerators and other essentials and toiletries at no cost when it opens this summer.

The HEROES Headquarters also includes a stress-free zone, where students can relax in massage chairs and enjoy other amenities. The HEROES program also provides free housing during breaks for students with housing insecurity and special resources for “students in care” (students who have ever been in foster or state care).

“Studies consistently show that when people are stressed and worrying about having the basics of life such as food, housing and supplies, it can result in mental health concerns,” said Clark, who conceived the program as her leadership project at the HERS Leadership Institute in Boston and serves as the HEROES liaison.

In addition, Student Health’s Wellness and Health Promotion Services is implementing Peer HEROES, a peer support program. Student volunteers will be screened and trained, according to the Certified Peer Education Program, and they will provide support and guidance to on-campus students living with mental health conditions. They will assist with stress management and resources to help remove barriers to academic success.

Help anytime, increasing awareness

To ensure that help is available any time it is needed by any student, Health Services is budgeting funds to subsidize counseling and psychiatry fees so financially disadvantaged students can have access to mental health care. And SIU is also contracting a mental health crisis line, so help is just a phone call away on nights, weekends and even during breaks when the SIU is closed.

Clark said millions of people around the world struggle with depression, substance use issues, psychosis, and/or anxiety, bipolar or personality disorders, and suicide is a serious health concern in the United States. In 2021, the last year for which data is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 48,000 people took their lives.

Help is available on campus and in the surrounding community, Clark said, and SIU’s Student Health Services is developing a comprehensive webpage that will include an online mental health screening tool from Mindwise Innovation and other valuable information for students and community members. The university is also establishing strategic partnerships with community mental health service providers to improve overall campus mental wellness and augment the on-campus capacity.

Other SIU initiatives include:

  • Implementing annual mental health student orientation sessions in conjunction with the SIU University 101 course curriculum. In addition, faculty are encouraged to integrate mental health awareness elsewhere in the curricula, where applicable. Wellness and Health Promotions will provide campus training about mental health issues, campus, and community resources and how to provide support and referral for services. Additional training will also be provided through the Multicultural Resource Center specifically to address the needs of underserved student populations.

  • Campus distribution of strategies, online tools, and resources via various online and outreach platforms of mental health sigma-reducing and help seeking behavior strategies. That includes distributing mental health kits, magnets, flyers, and posters.

  • Adding contact information for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) and SIU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) on the back of each student ID card.

  • Providing annual mental health first aid training to residential assistants, academic advisers, and campus safety officers as well as to any interested faculty and staff.

“We’re all in this together,” Clark said. “SIU is doing everything possible to provide help and resources to those who need it, but we can all make a difference. Listen, reach out to one another, stay connected. People need to be heard. And seek professional help for yourself or those you care about if needed.”

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