Demand for mental health services by students and faculty members has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Two bipartisan bills recently passed in the House of Representatives seek to address this growing crisis by helping colleges create evidence-based policies and procedures to address mental health and addiction on campuses.
Both bills passed the House with bipartisan support and are headed to the Senate, where similar support is expected.
Mental health research shows that there has been a 135% increase in depression and a 110% increase in anxiety among college students since 2013. Additionally, a Harris survey of 1,000 college students found that college students were 12 percentage points more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness than the typical US adult.
Campus leaders are also concerned. A 2020 survey found that 70 percent of college presidents said mental health was their top concern, and 66 percent of college presidents noted an increase in the use of mental health services on campus. Also, in April, a group of nearly 100 organizations representing higher education sent a letter to Congress asking for investments in mental health on college campuses.
Colleges have been able to use some of the $76.2 billion awarded to colleges nationwide through America’s Rescue Plan higher education emergency funds to address mental health, but many campuses lack the resources and guidance needed to implementing effective mental health and suicide prevention programs.
The Improving Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Through Campus Planning Act would require the Department of Education to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to encourage colleges to create comprehensive plans to address mental health and suicide on campus.
Manuela McDonagh, director of government affairs and advocacy for the Jed Foundation, an organization that works with colleges to create mental health and suicide prevention plans, said research shows that “when the college and university have a plan, they are more tend to improve student mental health, past suicides and identify the risks students face.’
Similarly, the Student Campus Prevention and Recovery Services Act of 2022 would encourage collaboration between the Department of Education and HHS to create programs that successfully address alcohol and substance abuse and support services.
David Arnold, assistant vice president for health, safety and wellness initiatives at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, said that while many colleges want to implement better programs to address mental health or addiction, they often don’t know where to start. started. These two bills would allow the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide an information plan on effective ways for colleges to allocate their resources to mental health and addiction services.
“This is really a unique opportunity to break down those silos and foster that interagency collaboration to address this really real problem,” said Randy Moore, policy manager at Active Minds, an organization that advocates for student mental health.
Increased guidance and cooperation from the federal government will go a long way in helping under-capacity colleges develop mental health policies, sources said. This includes smaller colleges that typically already operate with limited staff and resources to address mental health.
The substance abuse bill would make key changes to the language in the section of the Higher Education Act of 1965 related to drug and alcohol abuse prevention efforts. Colleges will be required to use evidence-based programs to prevent alcohol or other substance abuse.
The Mental Health Improvement Act does not include funding for additional mental health services on college campuses, but Congress can still act to provide more funding to existing programs such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which provides federal grants to states for youth mental health and suicide prevention efforts, including on college campuses. The program, which currently provides $7 million annually for these efforts, is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year. Many mental health advocates are pushing for Congress to pass the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Reauthorization Act, a Republican-led bill introduced in the House in March that would both reauthorize and provide an additional $13 million in annual funding for the program.
The Campus Prevention Act authorizes $15 million annually to help fund both addiction prevention and recovery programs and to establish a grant program to help institutions create and implement new standards.