One in four college students has a diagnosable mental illness, and yet 40% do not seek help. Across the country, student governments are taking action. At the University of Alabama, the student government launched a campaign to “End the Stigma.” From town hall meetings to a video you’ve just got to see, UA has been raising awareness and encouraging students to look out for one another. We sat down with Student Body President Elliot Spillers to hear about his part in the project.
Name: Elliot Spillers
Campus: University of Alabama
Major: Business Management, Disciplinary Studies and Social Science
Graduation year: 2016
Student Population: 36,155
What gave you the idea for your End the Stigma Campaign?
It’s not something we miraculously came up with overnight. We partnered with the National Association of Mental Illness. Their slogan is “end the stigma,” and it’s their national line. But one of the biggest things that I campaigned on was ensuring that we as students can access all our mental health resources. After going to [NCLC’s] Summit last summer, I saw that every SGA president was campaigning on mental health, so we all collaborated. I met Walker [Byrd] from Auburn and [Austin] Finley from University of Alabama at Huntsville and we started talking about what we were doing to tackle this issue. We started talking about awareness, and heightened awareness is the start to figuring out a solution.
How did you approach setting this whole thing up?
Here at UA we have a task force to educate students. The task force consists of mental health experts and student leaders, and they developed a report detailing the resource problems we see on campus, the ways we can increase students’ access to information, and how we can spread the word about the resources offered on campus. From there, we had a meeting with our Vice President of Student Affairs about what programs already exist. We asked him, for example, if faculty is trained to recognize if a student is struggling, and if parents are made aware of the mental health resources we provide. We’re looking to have many more meetings with our administration and the students who are impacted by this issue. We want them to educate us, and from there we’ll develop that report and make the changes on campus.
How’s the reception been? Any tangible results?
It’s been very fruitful. We’ve gotten a lot of great publicity, students now see the resources available. We held a town hall the other night, and we brought in professionals and students came up and asked questions; it was a great dialog between the panel and the students. Everyone was so thankful for the opportunity, for making this a top issue. And that was comforting for me to hear, because one thing our administration didn’t want was for us to create an environment that would spark somebody already battling mental health to spiral. They wanted us to enact hope, and I’m glad that’s what this program is doing.
What are your tips for other student body presidents who want to get involved or work with mental health?
- Collaborate. I love NCLC because it allows me an outlet to brainstorm, to spout some ideas with other people and to find best practices. This is not all my idea, I collaborated with a bunch of different presidents from all over to see what they found successful, to learn from their mistakes, and to start the conversation that will lead to policy change.
- Know what works already, then bring it to your campus. Michigan has an incredible mental health program, and I looked to their model for inspiration.