Durbin, Schakowsky Call for Increased Resources for Mental Health Services on College Campuses

CHICAGO – As students head back to school at colleges and universities across the country, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09) today discussed their legislation to improve mental health services on college campuses. The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act would make federal help available for campuses to expand their mental health awareness, outreach, and direct support services. The bill was included as part of a bipartisan mental health reform package that could be considered on the Senate floor this fall.

“College students often face stressful transitions into new academic and social environments, and many experience their first signs of mental illness during their college years. The combination of stigma and a lack of resources means too few students are able to receive needed mental health services,” Durbin said. “Our bill would increase awareness and treatment on campuses by promoting peer support, engaging campus groups, and supporting additional staff in counseling centers. I’m pleased that our bill was advanced out of committee as part of a larger mental health package, and hope that the full Senate quickly considers this legislation.”


“I was proud to join with Senator Dick Durbin to host this important discussion on our bill, the Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “Eighteen years ago my friend's son tragically died by suicide while studying at Harvard. This tragedy serves as a constant reminder to me about the urgent need for action on college campuses. Unfortunately, colleges are not equipped to respond to the need for mental health awareness, screening, and services.  The need is overwhelming and often shrinking education resources are not directed towards identifying and treating students suffering from mental illness. We continue to hear from colleges that the demand for services and the severity of student needs are growing without an increase in resources.  That is why we have to pass the Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act, which would provide new funds for colleges to expand mental health services for students.  We must ensure that every student in need of mental health services has access to them.”

In April, Durbin and Schakowsky sent letters to 115 colleges and universities across Illinois asking about mental health needs and services on campus. Schools reported that there was a large gap between student demand for counseling services and the treatment capacity.  This means that fewer students make it to counseling and when they do, their situation is often more severe.


Studies have shown that one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age fourteen and three-quarters by age 24.  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. 


The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act 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. This will build off existing grants that Loyola University Chicago and the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago have already received to provide mental health training and outreach.


  • 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.