Lawmakers are taking notice of the rising need for student mental healthcare – and introducing new bipartisan legislation to support mental health initiatives on college campuses. The Enhancing Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Through Campus Planning Act, which was passed by the House in June 2022, would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 and encourage colleges and universities "to develop and implement evidence-based comprehensive campus mental health and suicide prevention plans.”
This act, and others like it, are designed to bring relief to college and university students who are facing unprecedented rates of anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and treating mental health issues helps ensure students are able to have a successful academic career, earn their degree, and become well-adjusted adults who can meaningfully contribute to their communities.
Why the New Bill is Monumental
The Enhancing Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Through Campus Planning Act could not come at a better time. According to John MacPhee, CEO of The Jed Foundation, “In the past year, the youth mental health crisis has continued to worsen, with over 40% of college students reporting depression, and one in three reporting anxiety.”
If enacted, the bill would increase mental health services and resources available on campus, making it easier for students to access the help they need. Higher education institutions are encouraged – in coordination with the Secretary of Health and Human Services – to make proactive, intentional plans for promoting positive mental health and building plans for suicide prevention. The new act could also encourage colleges and universities to take student mental health more seriously and allocate more funding for developing their mental health offerings.
Colleges and universities could invest or allocate more resources to peer-to-peer support services, crisis care, campus-wide suicide prevention trainings, telehealth services, skills-based workshops, etc. Doing so would help alleviate the burdens on counseling centers and reduce wait time to care, improve student retention, and increase mental health outcomes of the student body.
U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), who proposed the legislation on September 28, 2022, says the bill will “enable students to focus on what matters: their friends, their activities, and most importantly, their education.”
When students get the quality care they need, they experience improvements in their relationships, emotional well-being, educational experience, extracurricular activities, physical health, and overall quality of life. With mental health and well-being support, students can focus on their personal and academic growth, allowing them to make the most of their college career, graduate on time, and go on to become independent, resilient adults.
Taking a Nationwide Approach to Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health
The Enhancing Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Through Campus Planning Act is just one of the many government-sponsored initiatives currently focused on improving mental health among U.S. youth and young adult, many of whom are still reeling from the disruptions in learning, relationships, and routines, and seeing increased isolation, anxiety, and depression as a result.
The Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022, for instance, which was recently passed in the House, aims to build more services and action plans to address mental and behavioral health, including substance use disorders, and mental health crises. Unfortunately, this bill isn’t as beneficial for the young adult population, as many young adults are unable to successfully navigate the healthcare system alone and/or rely on their parents’ health plans or their college or university’s counseling services to manage their mental health treatment.
On a national level, President Biden has called for “a major transformation in how mental health is understood, accessed, treated, and integrated – in and out of health care settings.” The Biden-Harris Administration has dispersed $300 million in grants to help schools hire more school-based mental health professionals and to help build a pipeline into the profession. The grants include funds for trauma-informed support, expanding mental health services through full-service community schools, and mitigating community violence that can lead to childhood trauma.
The administration is also calling on governors to invest more resources into mental health initiatives within their respective states. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsome recently signed a bill which will now require all colleges and universities to print a mental health hotline phone number on all student ID cards. Other states are following suit – and building initiatives around mental health and specifically mental health within the campus community.
Looking to the Future of Young Adult Mental Health
Today’s students are still navigating the negative effects of the pandemic. Like many of us, they’ve had to battle disruptions in their personal and academic lives and are in need of more significant, more comprehensive and tailored care. Thankfully, young adult mental health has started to receive the attention it deserves.
“We are slowly melting the stigma of mental illness, particularly with the younger generation, and that’s a good thing. However, the increases in depression and suicidality among young people should serve as a wake-up call to all of us,” Gabrielle Shapiro, M.D., chair of APA’s Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families, told Psychiatry News in January 2022.
These various mental health initiatives are helping to improve mental health well-being and improve access to care, it’s still not enough. We need all stakeholders, including higher education institutions, to increase funding and resources for mental and behavioral health initiatives; we need to make sure mental health care is not just available, but easily accessible, and tailored to the specific needs of the individual.
Investing in the well-being of our nation’s youth and young adults means investing in the well-being of the future of our nation.
About Mantra Health
Mantra Health is the leading digital mental health provider of evidence-based care for college and university students. Mantra increases student accessibility to therapy, psychiatry, and crisis support via telehealth and has built an in-house provider network to best match the needs and preferences of students in care.