Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Improve Mental Health Services On College Campuses

Studies Show That One-Half Of All Chronic Mental Illness Begins By Age 14 And Three-Quarters By Age 24

Washington, D.C. – Responding to the pressing need for enhanced mental health services on college campuses across the country, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) today to introduce bipartisan legislation to improve mental health services on college campuses.  The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act – which was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky – would provide funding to colleges to focus on both the outreach and treatment of students with mental health needs.

“Our students on college campuses in Maine and across our country must have access to critical, often lifesaving mental health services,” said Senator Collins. “Despite growing demand for these crucial services, far too many students still don’t have access to the care they need. This bipartisan legislation would help to ensure that colleges and universities have the resources required to provide high quality mental health services and outreach to their students."

“Studies have shown that one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24,” said Senator Durbin.  “College students can face stressful transitions into new academic and social environments, and many confront mental health concerns for the first time during their college years.  Presently, stigma and the lack of education and peer support means too few students are seeking mental health services. The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act will change that by making federal help available for campuses to expand their mental health awareness, outreach, screening, and direct support services.”

“We have to do a better job of confronting our country’s mental health crisis, including improving access to mental health services and combating the stigma associated with many diagnoses,” Senator Bennet said. “This bipartisan bill will give our colleges, and particularly college mental health professionals, resources to educate students and faculty about the warning signs and offer treatment to those that need it.”

Studies have shown that one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age fourteen and three-quarters by age 24.  College students face a potentially stressful transition into new academic and social environments, and many may confront mental health concerns for the first time.  A 2015 American College Health Association survey revealed that 57% of students report having felt overwhelming anxiety, 37% felt so depressed it was difficult to function, and 48% felt hopeless.  Yet only 12% of enrolled students seek counseling and only 15% of college and university students who commit suicide received campus counseling. 

Despite this, colleges and universities often have limited resources available for awareness, screening, and support.  While the majority of campus counseling directors report that the demand for services and the severity of student needs are growing, the ratios of counselors to students far exceed recommended levels, forcing colleges and universities to reduce the critical outreach efforts that help identify the most at-risk students. 

Today’s legislation would ensure that colleges and universities have the resources and support they need to aid students at a vulnerable time in their development and educate the campus community by:

  • Establishing a grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services to assist colleges and universities in providing direct mental health services and outreach to students, families, and staff to increase awareness of mental health issues. The funds may also be used to hire staff, engage student organizations, and expand mental health training opportunities.
  • Directing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a public health awareness campaign around mental health and to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness for students.  SAMHSA and CDC would be required to seek input from national mental and behavioral health organizations and colleges and universities.
  • Providing federal leadership by establishing an interagency working group on college mental health to discuss mental and behavioral health concerns and promote federal agency collaboration to support innovations in mental health services and supports for students on college and university campuses.

The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act has the support of: American Federation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychological Association, American College Health Association, Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Chicago, National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems and the American College Counseling Association.