Addressing the Mental Health Issue: What SIU is doing to provide care for the students

January 23, 2023

College campuses have always been known to be exceptionally stressful. Students are often adjusting to a new town, leaving family for the first time, and struggling with the change between a high school class schedule and their new college class schedule. It can be a difficult transition, and the pandemic only made it more challenging.

Campus was empty, classes were online and there were few ways to meet new friends. It became incredibly easy to spend all day alone in the dorms, eating microwavable macaroni and cheese and avoiding doing any homework by watching TV in bed all day.

It’s a hard cycle to get out of, and it’s a lifestyle that can fuel depression and anxiety in those that struggle with mental health issues, which can make it even more difficult to create healthy habits.

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Jaime Clark, the director of the Student Health Services at SIU, said the transition to remote learning created a problem of social disconnectedness that made it difficult for some students to succeed in school.

“I think it’s hard to transition to a college experience where, either your high school experience was anything but normal because of the pandemic and then transitioning to now, post pandemic, or maybe it’s a great loss because you started off with kind of what you see as this traditional college experience, where you’ve lost some of that during the pandemic, and now we’re trying to rebound from that,” Clark said.

Because of the lack of connection, many students felt like they didn’t have a strong support system or resources to cope with the struggles they were dealing with. On top of that, many students weren’t aware of options they had to receive care, but there are options in place for students who are seeking mental health care.

One of the more well-known services SIU provides is counseling services through the SIU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

According to the CAPS website, their list of services include individual counseling, group counseling, crisis services, gender-based violence services, alcohol and other drugs services, couples counseling, dialectical behavior therapy program, eating disorder outpatient program and the SIU mandatory suicide assessment.

“One thing that I think is really important to note that not a lot of students know is that any student can be seen any day without an appointment,” Clark said. “So they can walk in and, if they’re struggling, they can be seen that day.”

CAPS services are also not limited to the Student Health Center at SIU. In fact there are four other locations students can go to seek mental health services.

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“A lot of people think that you can just seek mental health services at the Student Health Center, but we also have satellite locations where we have clinicians in University Housing at both Baldwin and Grinnell Halls, and then we also have two clinicians now in the Multicultural Resource Centers, and a clinician in athletics,” Clark said.

These locations were put in place to help reach underserved students on campus and address issues they may be having with accessing care. Additionally, the locations allow for extended hours of service.

“You can be seen until 9 p.m., seven days a week and on the weekends, we have clinicians in housing,” Clark said. “So those are kind of walk-in services as well.”

There is also a system in place at CAPS to help victims of gender-based violence such as sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking, which waives the fee for students who have experienced gender-based or sexual violence, said Dr. Abby Bilderback, the director of CAPS and associate director of Student Health Services

“Our entire team is trained to be trauma informed, and we have some specialized providers on a sexual assault treatment team to really make sure that students are receiving holistic care in response to the experience of of gender based violence that they’ve survived,” Bilderback said.

Because the recovery process is different for everyone, CAPS works with different systems such as providing medication to fully serve the students.

“It’s not just counseling, it’s working with our medical providers and Student Health Services working with our psychiatry department, our confidential adviser through wellness and health promotion services, and our prevention educators through wellness and health promotion services,” Bilderback said. “So I would say that it takes more of a holistic approach than just counseling.”

Part of this includes being present on campus during campus tragedies or events. In the 2021-2022 school year, there were five student deaths at SIU and many more acts of violence that affected the student body.

“When there is an incident that impacts a group of students, we try to reach out to the students that have been impacted to offer support to offer counseling services,” Bilderback said. “We often attend university events to make sure that we have a presence there and that if any student needs to talk to us while we’re there, that can be helpful as well.”

There are numerous services that are currently available to SIU students who are seeking help with their mental health.

But these services need to be better promoted.

Many students go through the full college experience at SIU without having ever heard of a majority of the services available to them, but until students are made more aware of their options for mental health care, one of the most important things to remember is to look out for other students who seem like they may be struggling.

“Look out for the people that are around you,” Bilderback said. “If you notice that somebody’s struggling, to not be afraid to pick up the phone and call CAPS and let us know what you’re seeing or what your friend or or you know, classmate might be experiencing.”

 

(Editor’s Note: If you are an SIU student experiencing struggles with your mental health, contact the SIU Counseling and Psychological Services at 618-453-3311)

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