Durbin, Collins, Schakowsky Introduce Bill to Improve Mental Health Services on College Campuses

Competitive grant program would fund college counseling center outreach and student treatment

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today joined with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to introduce bipartisan legislation to improve mental health services on college campuses. The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act creates a competitive grant program that would provide funding to colleges to focus on both outreach to identify students with mental health needs and treatment of students coming to counseling centers for help.


“Last year when I first introduced this legislation, the shootings at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech had focused national attention on challenges colleges face in identifying students who need mental health services,” said Durbin. “Despite a renewed effort to address these challenges, colleges and universities remain largely unequipped to respond to the need for awareness, screening, and services. Our legislation will change that by making federal help available for campuses to expand their mental health services and outreach programs.”


“Proactively addressing the mental health issues of college-age students is a critically important issue,” said Collins. “The bill, and its associated grants, would help to ensure that colleges and universities have the resources needed to provide mental health services and outreach to students.”


“College students today don’t have it easy. Rising tuition costs, a stagnant job market, increased campus violence, and much more create stress that would be difficult for any person. When students don’t have an outlet they may develop eating disorders, turn to drugs, or look to suicide as a solution. Increasing access to mental health care services on campus will expand resources for students across the country who find themselves in need of help,” said Schakowsky.


The International Association of Counseling Services recommends counselor to student ratios of 1 to 1,000 – 1,500. The average ratio on campuses in the United States is growing, with an average of only one counselor for every 1,941 students. At the same time, the American College Health Association finds that incidents of mental illness among students are reaching new heights with 43% of college students feeling so depressed they have found it difficult to function, 1 in 11 contemplating suicide in the last 12 months and more than 1,000 committing suicide annually. Ensuring access to mental health services and outreach for these students can make a real difference. Students who seek help are six times less likely to kill themselves than students who do not.


Today’s legislation would ensure that colleges and universities have the resources and support they need to add personnel and aid students at a vulnerable time in their development 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 and expand mental health training opportunities.


• Calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a public health awareness campaign around mental health and to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness for students. 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 over 55 national organizations including: National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, American Council on Education, Higher Education Mental Health Alliance, American Association of Community Colleges, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, American Psychological Association, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Disability Rights Network and National Association of Social Workers.