A student-initiated campus-wide movement spurred the University of Maryland recently to designate additional resources and services to its counseling center.
The #30DaysTooLate campaign, led by Scholars Promoting and Revitalizing Care (SPARC), aimed to raise awareness of delays in appointments — many students have waited 30 days or more to see a counselor — and push the administration to make mental health a priority.
“On the health center’s website, it says ‘1 in 3 Terps will feel too depressed to function,’ so we kind of wanted to gauge that is an incredible statistic that isn’t really talked much about,” said SPARC Co-President Anthony Sartori, a College Park senior.
SPARC delivered a letter, with stories written by students about their experiences with mental health issues, to university President Wallace Loh in February.
The letter demanded the following actions: sending a campus-wide email acknowledging awareness of the issue; forming a committee of students and faculty to work together to find solutions to improve accessibility of services; and outlining tangible solutions with timeline of implementation by the end of the semester.
The email was then sent out to more than 1,200 university professors and faculty.
In response to the email, Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement, who oversees the counseling center, and other officials met with the organization to discuss their concerns, including the wait period and the general conversation regarding mental health on campus.
“They heard our concerns. They definitely listened to us, and we really appreciated the meeting,” Sartori said.
One of the major issues SPARC’s leaders brought up at the meeting was the number of students who withdraw from the university due to mental health problems.
A withdraw survey, which examined students’ reasons for withdrawing from the university from 2010 to 2015, showed that 42 percent of students listed mental health or physical issues as the primary reason for withdrawing. Of that group, 62 percent either do not graduate or return to the university.
“So you have over 400 students who just disappeared, and we really wanted to bring attention to that in the meeting because [we wanted to know] what is being done outreach-wise to these students,” Sartori said.
The organization was told that the individual schools of the university reach out to the students, but “we got a sense that there wasn’t much being done for those students,” he said.
The meeting resulted in the establishment of a SPARC liaison with the counseling and health centers, and a campus-wide email was issued, not by Loh as requested, but by Clement.
On March 26, Clement sent an email highlighting that the university has taken action to address the mental health crisis, which includes redirecting resources to hire three additional full-time counseling psychologists, running workshops for students with anxiety and depression, and giving students the option of online counseling. The students also were informed that an after-hour phone line is available for emergencies.
“We must all work together to identify solutions,” Clement wrote in the email. “Our students’ health and well-being is critical to their academic success.”
However, Clement noted that the wait time highlighted by the campaign is misleading as students with urgent mental health will be seen immediately, resulting in other students having to wait.
Sartori said he is conflicted about the email.
“It is an incredible thing when a university administrator or official emails over 52,000 people … and you’ve got thousands and thousands of people talking about the email, so I think that’s a wonderful thing” Sartori said. “What we’re concerned about is kind of the basis of our movement. At the end of the email, it talks about how there is misleading information. Our movement isn’t misleading. Our movement is based on statistics directly from the counseling center.”
“That line [of the email] kind of, we feel, invalidates and could be very troubling for students actually with mental health issues,” he said.
However, Sartori said the organization did share its feelings to Clement and “she was very receptive.”
As the university continues to work on this issue, Sartori said SPARC is pushing for providing freshmen with mental health resources by placing them in the north of campus, in addition to their current location on south campus, informing freshmen about how to get help on campus by conducting workshops in freshman residence halls, and putting together resilience workshops that promote self-care and encouraging students to seek help.
Sartori said a Resident Life community director recently sent a letter to a student who was taken to the hospital after having a panic attack saying that university officials are concerned about her “ability to successfully manage living in a residence hall” even though she was cleared by hospital staff. As a result, SPARC set up a meeting with Res Life to discuss the letter.
Res Life and SPARC designed posters, which includes stress-relieving tips and 375 posters were printed to be placed in the resident halls. Also, the director of Resident Life told The Diamondback that they will be forming a committee to discuss policy changes. The committee will include a SPARC liaison.
“Our main goal is for [the university] to prioritize mental health not only for its students, but for faculty and all employees at all levels of pay grade,” Sartori said.