NORFOLK — Cinamyn Seward is a junior at Old Dominion University who has great ambitions to one day become an obstetrician-gynecologist who owns hospitals, clinics, and mental health centers across the nation, “and maybe even worldwide.”
As a biology major minoring in African-American studies, Seward has a lot on her plate as she’s attempting to stay on track for graduation in 2021.
Seward, 20, said she’s been struggling with her mental health since childhood, but after attending on-campus events where students were encouraged to open up, she noticed she wasn’t alone in feeling emotionally and mentally stressed with “nowhere to go.”
She’s determined to change that.
“Sophomore year of college was when it really took a toll on me from situations not only I was encountering, but others on-campus including my roommate,” she said.
As Seward makes her way back to ODU this fall, she said she’s hoping to launch her own “peer-to-peer” mental health program where students are “able to bond inside and outside” of regularly scheduled meetings.
“I want students to have a safe space to go to, and if needed, we’ll always have each other to lean on even when we aren’t meeting,” she said
Seward particularly wants to ensure a male advocate is part of her program to discourage the notion that men are less masculine if they convey their emotions.
“To reassure them it’s okay to seek help when dealing with something and they don’t have to bottle everything in,” she said.
Dr. Nancy Badger is the executive director of counseling services at ODU and said she’s “all for students using each other as sounding boards” when it comes to mental health. She hopes Seward will use the office as a resource for information.
In her more than 20 years of experience in counseling on college campuses, Badger said she’s noticed a “dramatic increase” in the need for services on campuses nationwide without the ability to keep up with the demand.
“There used to be a stigma around mental health, now a lot of the students who come to campus are already seeing a therapist or are being treated with medication,” she said.
Badger said the office advises students to get in touch as early in the semester as “the waitlist gets lengthy.”
“It gives the perception we don’t care when that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said. “There’s just nine of us and over 24,000 of them.”
A psychiatrist who can prescribe medications is joining ODU’s office in the fall and in November the university is contracting a company who’ll provide counseling to students via phone Badger said.
“We also call students on the waitlist monthly to make sure they’re in a stable condition or to get them in for a one-time appointment if needed,” she said.
In the meantime, the office continues to provide workshops and events for students to learn about mental health preventative measures “before things become too difficult.”
With support from students and staff behind her, Seward said she’s not worried about having enough people who’d be willing to be there “at any given moment or anyone.”
Seward said she’ll “start small” and hopes the program will grow to become an official university organization.
For more information about counseling services at ODU, click here.