Longwood University Sign

Longwood University recently received a grant totaling $568,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for a program that seeks to address the mental health resource desert in the Southside area. The project, titled the Southside Campus and Community Collaborative for Mental Health Awareness (SCCC-MHA), will establish a mental health training and referral program through partnerships with the goal of increasing mental health services and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health within the community.

Drs. Jen Gerlach and Kat McCleskey led the project team, which included Public Safety Project Specialist Lt. Stuart Raybold and Stakeholder Coordinator Dr. Angela McDonald. The project includes a network of five public school divisions, local healthcare providers and the Virginia Department of Health’s Piedmont Health District.

Longwood pursued the Mental Health Awareness Training grant due to the intensive need of mental health services within the Southside community.

“We’re in the Southside Virginia region, which is a federally designated mental health desert, so the grant is all about training people who work with kids and adults,” said Gerlach, assistant professor in counselor education. “It’s really about providing mental health training and support to our area partners and then creating a network of referral sources, so that if there’s someone that’s in crisis or needs more intensive care, we’re able to have a list of referral options to send them to get more intensive support.”

The project begins with the setup of evidence-based mental health awareness training that will be offered to community members such as teachers, college students, healthcare professionals, campus police and the general public.

“Our teachers are our eyes and ears in the classroom. Before you send your kids to a school counselor, our teachers are the ones who are seeing the behaviors and so we want to make sure that they are aware of different signs of mental health struggles and disorders,” Gerlach said.

McDonald, dean of Longwood’s College of Education, Health, and Human Services, emphasized the importance of the partnership with the school divisions in the Virginia Department of Education’s Region 8, which includes 12 Southside counties.

“This is the latest example of Longwood’s long-time commitment to supporting our local teachers, counselors and the children and families they serve,” McDonald said. “We are really looking forward to collaborating with them on this important work.”

The project aims to increase suicide prevention efforts through actions such as social media campaigns. The end goal of the project is the establishment of a wider network of mental health services that the general public will recognize as options for those in need of resources.

Longwood’s Office of Research, Grants and Sponsored Projects (ORGSP) assisted with the grant proposal. SAMHSA, the sponsor of the grant, is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that strives to establish more accessibility to mental health resources and advance the behavioral health of the country by improving the lives of individuals living with mental and substance use disorders, and their families.

The program aspires to strengthen the overall wellbeing of the Farmville and Southside communities and to encourage those in need to seek help.

Gerlach said she hopes the program will encourage those in need to seek help. Part of that is working to decrease the stigma associated with mental health and suicide, so that people feel more comfortable asking hard questions.

“I’m hoping that this grant can do a lot of good with providing knowledge and destigmatizing mental health, because it’s hard to talk about some of these things if you’re not trained,” she said. “That’s my ultimate goal, and I think for us as a grant team, that’s our collective goal as well.”

The ORGSP provides support to university faculty and staff interested in obtaining external funding for their research, scholarly and creative activities. The comprehensive support services ORGSP provides to the campus community for the preparation and successful administration of externally-sponsored projects include funding searches; proposal development and support guidance; proposal review and submission; negotiation and processing of awards; execution of contracts and sub-awards; interpretation of sponsor guidelines and requirements and grant training workshops.

If you would like more information about ORGSP, please call 434-395-2987 or email Dr. Alix Fink (finkad@longwood.edu) or Jim Wiecking (wieckingjw@longwood.edu).

Leave a Comment