Kickin' It | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Jules Norwood.

    Wednesday was a day for sharing and support on campus as S.H.O.E.S. returned after a hiatus in 2021.

    S.H.O.E.S., which stands for Students Honoring Others' Everyday Struggles/Stories, is an award-winning program created in 2016 to help ECU students who may be dealing with challenging times. College students may experience depression, anxiety, stress, addictions or thoughts of self-harm, but may feel isolated and unable to manage their responses.

    "Mental health touches all ages, races and sexual orientations, so it is a huge problem within the world today," said Waz Miller, director of residence life. "This program tries to open more people's eyes to this, as well as to the fact it is continuing to affect people at an even younger age.

    "We are striving to bring awareness that mental health issues are real and impact many in hopes that people realize that what they are feeling and experiencing is real, legitimate, and can hopefully be helped through some of the resources that are available."

    Mental Health Resources

  • For life-threatening emergencies, call 911.
  • For crisis situations contact the ECU Center for Counseling and Student Development, 252-328-6661. Help is available 24/7/365.
  • My SSP is an app that allows students to connect with supportive services at any time.
  • National suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741
  • Additional resources

    In 2017, the inaugural S.H.O.E.S. event was recognized as the Program of the Year by the National Association of College and University Residence Halls. Organizers shared their experience with staff members from other institutions at the Association of College and University Housing Officers International conference, training other professionals to share similar events on their own campuses.

    Dr. Valerie Kisler-van Reede, director of the ECU Center for Counseling and Student Development (CCSD), said increasing awareness of mental health resources and decreasing the stigma associated with seeking help are critically important.

    "Everyone needs to know what to do if they or someone else is experiencing a mental health crisis," she said.

    The event featured a display of 400 pairs of shoes collected from ECU and Hope Middle School students, each attached to a story of someone struggling with a family situation, medical condition, mental health issue or other life challenge.

    In addition to the shoes on display, there was a Worthy Wall - a chalkboard where students could write why they are worthy of being loved. Soks the giant purple bear was on hand for hugs and photos, and ECU Dining Services provided hot chocolate and cookies.

    Junior Savannah Lipski etched the words "Jeremiah 29:11" on the Worthy Wall.

    "It's always been my quote to get me through hard times," she said. "I kind of look back on it and it's like, I do have a future. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, or what happens in my life, each day is a day, and I will get through it with the Lord."

    Lipski said she struggled to stay positive in high school and especially during the pandemic, and that events like S.H.O.E.S. are important because they provide an opportunity for people to talk about mental health.

    "I don't think people realize how difficult it is for people to talk about it and bring it up in conversation," Lipski said.

    Students and staff distributed thousands of positive messages in campus buildings and ECU Transit buses during the S.H.O.E.S. project. The display of positivity was aimed at lifting everyone's spirits during the month of February and inspiring hope.

    Gray Godley, also a junior, said the event was a reminder to everyone who's struggling that they're not alone.

    "You just see all these people that have gone through something too, and people that have gone through a lot worse than me," he said. "I should really count myself lucky that I didn't get it that bad. And at the same time, we want to be there for these people."

    Godley wrote, "I have come a long way" on the Worthy Wall to remind himself of what he's overcome.

    "At the beginning of last year, it was really difficult," he said. "Our house was having forced renovations; the floor was giving out, and we had to live in a trailer. My dog was declining in health. ... I just have never been so isolated in my life. But I didn't let that stop me."

    New to S.H.O.E.S. this year were performances by students from the School of Theatre and Dance, which Miller said showed yet another way of communicating about difficult issues. This year's event included a focus on mental health during the pandemic as well as male mental health. "Men are sometimes less comfortable talking about those problems," she said.

    "The goal is to reassure people that they are not alone and that there are others feeling this way too, so they don't feel ostracized or as lonely," Miller said. "The college years are sometimes when some of these illnesses and issues come to light as students are working to define who they are. We are trying to educate everyone so they can all be supportive of one another and be aware of resources they can use or encourage a struggling person to consider using."

    As of the end of January, Kisler-van Reede said CCSD had served more than 1,300 students in more than 5,000 appointments since the beginning of the fall semester, highlighting the importance of and the need for mental health services on campus.
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