Mental health is an issue that almost every individual has experience in in some capacity or another. However, it continues to be a very stigmatized topic, even here at Salisbury University.
Two students, sophomore Kevin Ladd and junior Cassandra Duncan, are spearheading the SMHILE mental health initiative in the hopes of changing the mental health conversation here on campus.
Ladd describes the SMHILE acronym as “a Student Mental Health Initiative and Life Elevation.”
Highlighting that the focus of the initiative is on the Salisbury University counseling and mental health facilities, Ladd expressed that he and other students feel the school is lacking in sufficient mental health resources.
SMHILE consists of a group of students who are trying to advocate for the resources that are needed at the university in order to provide proper mental health services.
Duncan expressed frustration about what compelled her to put this movement together.
“I started talking to people about counseling services, and I kept hearing, ‘Oh, you have to wait so long, oh this, oh that,’ all these complaints about mental health that shouldn’t be a thing," Duncan said.
After more investigating on the issues that SU has with its counseling center, the duo found information that made what they are trying to do even more important.
“We have found out that there are not enough counselors on campus to facilitate the amount of students we have," Ladd said. "We have just about 9,000 students to three full-time counselors, which gives us an almost one to 3,000 counselor-to-student ratio.”
He further expressed that these numbers were below both the national and state average for counselor-to-student ratio. The students emphasized that this is why SMHILE’s mission is so important.
Ladd hopes that with this new initiative, and with enough student support, SMHILE will be able to raise awareness of the issue at hand, and it will lead to the implementation of change.
Duncan expressed concern over how the need for these resources has been overlooked for far too long.
“The need is becoming more and more obvious," Duncan said. "This shouldn’t be something that is the normal. Students should have the resources.”
The short-term goal for this initiative is to have the students‘ voices heard and to acquire those much-needed resources. Among these resources, the students hope to gain three to four more counselors, a psychiatrist and a director to be hired in the counseling center, according to Duncan.
Duncan explained the long-term goal of this movement is to "build a community of inclusion and general well-being.”
The hope is to create a campus community that is open and accepting of mental health. Duncan explained how there was more to come after their first goal was accomplished.
“This is just a first step,” Duncan said.
SMHILE is an initiative that plans on being around for a long time here at SU.
When speaking about the next steps that need to be taken, Duncan stated, “We want it to be student-led.”
Ladd continued on this point, highlighting that while the university is behind the initiative, they want to keep it student-based to help prove a point.
"This issue has become an issue that the school itself can’t handle for whatever reason," Ladd said. "So the students have to take it into their hands.”
The duo has already met with President Wight about SMHILE and discussed what they are aiming to achieve. SMHILE may be student-run, but in order for its cries to be heard, it must attract the attention of higher-ups.
Duncan expressed gratitude for Wight meeting with them.
“We requested that meeting; we were really appreciative of that meeting because it’s not something he has to do,” Duncan said.
During the meeting, the small group of SMHILE representatives and Wight spoke about the need for mental health resources here at SU as well as the urgency behind this initiative.
Duncan recalled, “He had mentioned, quote, ‘Money was no object when it came to solving this issue.’ We kind of want to hold him to his word on that. If money is no object, why is this still an issue?”
Both Ladd and Duncan expressed confusion and frustration on how the university was able to allow these problems to go on for so long.
“Last year, there was a petition that went around to increase the number of counselors here, and it got a huge amount of support, and nothing was ever acted on. It might have something to do with the budget allocations, where they are putting the money,” Ladd said. “It’s just not a priority. It’s not seen as important.”
SMHILE is a fairly new student initiative, but as it gains momentum, its voice will be heard more and more. The duo is sure that change is on the horizon for SU.
The group is actively trying to get the word out about the initiative, and any and all student involvement is welcome. As of right now SMHILE meetings are held in the library from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday evenings. For more information about SMHILE; contact either Ladd at (443) 944-1815 or Duncan at (410) 979-4990.
By ANNIE GEITNER
Featured photos by Annie Geitner Images.