When she left the psychiatric ward for the second time this year, Sophia Ahmed was scared.
Ahmed, who suffers from anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, had already been admitted in June to the UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital, and was was admitted again for five days in September.
The cause was the same for both visits — suicidal thoughts, she said. But the 19-year-old felt different each time she left the ward. The second time, she was afraid of not having a support system at UF.
The fear led the UF materials science and engineering sophomore to organize an initiative that would grab UF’s administration and Student Government’s attention. She encouraged about 15 students to use chalk and spray paint to write messages complaining about the lack of funding for the Counseling & Wellness Center, as well as the management of white supremacist Richard Spencer’s visit.
Students met at 10 p.m. Sunday on Turlington Plaza for the project and finished about 1 a.m., she said. They collected about $30 among themselves and bought materials ahead of time, said Jessica Terkovich, 20, one of the organizers.
Some of the messages inscribed onto walls and floors were “my mental health is priceless” and “public safety > public image.” Ahmed said they divided into two teams — one group spray-painted messages on the walls of Norman Hall and the other group wrote messages with chalk on high-traffic areas, including Plaza of the Americas, the Reitz Union and Tigert Hall.
“When I got out of the psych ward, I was scared because there’s nurses, techs and other patients there, but I would not have that same support at UF,” Ahmed said. “UF should foster a welcoming environment for students with mental health.”
Ahmed said she thinks UF is not supportive of students mental health issues because it does not fund the CWC, which needs more clinicians. UF recently gave permanent funding for eight new mental health counselors, but Ahmed said it isn’t enough.
She said if the center receives more funding, they can offer more types of therapy for students.
Ahmed said when she was reflecting on her plan to bring attention to the mental health issue, she decided to include other issues she feels people should know about. Spencer’s visit and the reluctance of UF and SG to advocate for canceling classes was one of them, she said.
“I am proud that we did it, but I just want to see how people react first,” Ahmed said. “That’s how we’ll gauge what effect it will have.”
Terkovich said she got involved with the project because as a white person from a middle class family, she feels privileged and that she can empower others who aren’t as lucky as her.
“I know I can be a lot more vocal about my activism than others, because of my position,” the UF criminology sophomore said. “If you have any position of privilege or authority you have to use that for good and support other’s opinions.”