Young black woman, smiling, holding a can of crushed pineapple in one hand and canned chicken in the other.

An SIU student displays some of the food items available at the Saluki Food Pantry to help meet students’ physical and mental needs. (SIU file photo)

May 22, 2023

Mental health issues can strike anyone – SIU is helping students in many ways

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Although May is Mental Health Awareness Month, helping students and the community with mental health needs is what Southern Illinois University Carbondale is all about throughout the year, said Jaime Clark, director of Student Health Services.

Jaime-Clark-sm.jpgClark, who can be reached at, said the university and community are collaborating on efforts and 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.

New HEROES program established

One significant new initiative is SIU’s multitiered HEROES program (Higher Education Resources and Opportunities for Salukis in Need). A new HEROES Headquarters is being established 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 also serves as the HEROES liaison. “We’re expanding upon our successful student food pantry to provide other necessities for our students to help them overcome whatever challenges they may be facing and succeed.”

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.

Clark said the program is based on the eight dimensions of wellness and uses “an integrated approach to health and wellness that focuses on holistic care and meeting the needs of our diverse student population. Using a multidisciplinary approach to provide wrap-around, inclusive services for all students will maximize student engagement, retention and succeed. Student Health Services is addressing issues related to basic need insecurities and mental, physical and intellectual health as well as overall wellness, providing students with the supportive resources and skills they need to succeed at SIU.”

She noted that Student Health Services is providing accessible care for all students and addressing health care disparities via centralized services at the Student Health Center and meeting students where they are in satellite locations. Learn more by visiting the  HEROES website or by emailing

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 with 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.

Steps to improve mental health

Clark said people can take a variety of steps to improve their mental health such as:

  • Seek and provide support with family and friends.
  • Improve problem-solving skills through various resources.
  • Get involved in things that interest you, including cultural and religious activities.
  • Limit the use of alcohol and other drugs.
  • Get sufficient sleep.
  • Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.
  • Limit access to lethal means for those who may be at risk of suicide.
  • Learn to manage stress effectively.

“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.”