As of July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline has become easier to reach by simply calling 988. With mental health crises affecting so many people, this is a welcome step. Robust and effective suicide prevention begins with early intervention through timely and easy access to mental health care. For downtrodden and struggling college students, including non-traditional students who go to campus and in many cases have job and parenting responsibilities, what’s readily available on campus is critical.
Creating the minds of tomorrow is job no. 1 for our colleges and universities. But we expect college students today to be academically successful by ignoring their critical mental and emotional health needs. Last year, Congress increased funding for youth mental health support through the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Memorial Act Youth Suicide Prevention Program, but kept funding for higher education within the GLS Campus. Grants at $ 6,488 million, the same amount allocated in fiscal year 2021.
As higher education students continue to talk more openly about their growing struggles for mental health, leaders both on and off campus need to pay attention. Even before the pandemic, our campuses were struggling to keep up with their students’ mental health needs. As the pandemic has subsided and the mental health crisis continues to grow, they are even less equipped to provide critical care as much, or quickly, as needed. Mental health support should be as accessible as the faculty office hours. We are grossly insufficient.
For students, this need is urgent.
Between 2013 and 2018, the percentage of students, with an average age of 21, who attempted suicide doubled and the percentage of students who reported severe depression increased from 9% to 21%. The American College Health Association’s Fall 2021 National College Health Assessment Survey showed that nearly 73% of students reported struggling with moderate or severe psychological distress. About 70% of college presidents identified students’ struggles with mental health as a priority need.
Campuses have a responsibility to invest in easily accessible mental health services, but so does Congress. Congress must act quickly by significantly funding the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant. It is the only federal program specifically available to support campus mental health needs. But its annual budget of just $ 7 million means that only a handful of the nation’s colleges and universities, those that pass a lengthy review application process, have access to these life-saving funds.
It was encouraging to see that the recently introduced Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2023 by the House Appropriations Committee includes a slight increased GLS campus grants to nearly $ 11.5 million. This is just an urgent start. Now, the Senate Appropriations Committee must follow suit in its next funding bill for fiscal year 2023.
In April, Higher Learning Advocates and nearly 100 organizations delivered a letter to congressional leaders urging support and prioritization of the mental and behavioral health needs of the approximately 20 million students enrolled in higher education. we have written,
The scale and scale of the mental health crisis among college students will require far more support than currently provided by the federal government and will require the federal government to provide support to institutions and students in a timely and flexible manner. Congress is expected to significantly upgrade and expand the clearance level for the GLS Higher Education Program.
In addition, the letter calls on Congress “to update the Public Health Service Act and the Higher Education Act to support holistic and evidence-based practices that meet students’ mental health needs.”
With the arrival of summer, millions of students will return to campus. They will carry the weight of academic pressure, financial hardship, and family obligations as they fight what is often a secret battle of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions that can get worse without proper care. An integral part of our economic recovery and students’ likelihood of achieving academic success is ensuring that mental health care is available on our campuses where students can access services. Today’s students, our nation’s future workforce, deserve to have help available when and where they need it most. Congress can and must make it happen.