Rep. Susan Wild and Rep. Fred Keller introduced bipartisan legislation into the House as a step toward addressing student mental health concerns in higher education settings.
Wild represents Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district and Keller represents the 12th district. Wild’s district includes college campuses, one of them being Lehigh.
Wild, a Democrat, said she was happy the bill is being cosponsored by Keller, a Republican, making it a bipartisan effort.
The Enhancing Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Through Campus Planning Act would amend the Higher Education Act, requiring the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services to work together to prevent suicide and promote positive mental health in compliance with the recommended strategies from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Wild said it is not a funded mandate at this point.
DOE and HHS would have the resources to create plans but the funds necessary for schools to implement these plans have not yet been made available, Wild said.
“This legislation, if passed, would at least put mental health and mental health needs of college students into focus and into the headlines so that hopefully we would soon be able to get some funding to go along with it,” Wild said.
Wild said she has heard concerns from some college administrators that while the legislation is well-intentioned, without the funding, it is cutting into already slim budget margins.
“That’s something we really need to address going forward, because I get the challenges that colleges are having these days financially,” Wild said. “I would love to pass a bill that includes funding for colleges to implement these programs. I don’t see that being in the cards this term in Congress.”
On Sept. 28, the bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Wild and Keller and referred to The House Committee of Education and Labor.
“Our legislation provides for increased coordination between federal agencies and higher education institutions to develop and implement mental health and suicide prevention plans so that every student has access to the resources they need to succeed in college,” Keller said in a news release.
This legislation was previously introduced by Wild in September 2019, but did not receive a vote. Wild said it passed in the House but not the Senate.
Wild said she hopes that with assistance at the federal level, colleges, especially those that do not already have mental health plans for their students in place, would be able to create accessible programs for students.
“I’ve been talking to the college presidents a lot, and most of them have been mentioning student mental health as their biggest COVID-19 related concern,” she said.
In September, Wild published an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer, explaining her inspiration for and timeliness of the legislation. In it, she cited statistics pertaining to college students’ mental health.
A National Institutes of Health report found that 71 percent of college students surveyed said the pandemic had increased their stress and anxiety.
Another study by Penn State Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that from 2019 to 2020, about 36.9 percent of students in college recieving mental health services seriosly considered suicide.
The National Association for Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment (NABITA) is one of the organizations endorsing the bill.
“We have seen firsthand the increased emotional and mental health issues impacting college students and understand the vital role college administrators can have in ensuring students get the help they need,” said President of NABITA, Makenzie Schiemann, in the news release.
NABITA works to provide resources to address the mental health needs of college students and offers behavioral intervention training.
“We must provide national guidance which encourages administrators in higher education to develop and implement comprehensive mental health and suicide prevention plans and NABITA urges Congress to pass this bill quickly,” Schiemann said.
The next steps are getting the bill through committee, including it in the Higher Education Act and then putting it to a vote in The House. Wild said this will probably happen early next year.