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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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Mental health laws for students should involve students


Many students at higher education institutions suffer from mental illness, especially anxiety. Second only to financial constraints, mental health issues cause students to drop out of school. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While one could argue that every action that the Texas legislature takes is important and should be evaluated, the sheer volume of bills they pass makes that impractical.

It is our duty as citizens and as students to look at the policies that affect us personally. For many students here at the University of Houston, one of those issues is higher education and/or mental health resources.

In November 2015, Speaker Joe Straus formed the Select Committee to look at the behavioral health system for adults and children in Texas. According to Speaker Straus, “The opportunity to improve our mental health system this year is real, and it’s important. A smarter approach to mental health will improve treatment and care while saving taxpayers money.”

Texas has been suffering from a mental health crisis for a long time, and this committee can be used to create significant change in our communities.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year and suicide is the second leading death among those 15-34 years old. This means that college students are the most vulnerable and the most affected. Due to the fact students are the ones who are the most affected and the most vulnerable, universities should go out of their ways to serve their students and advocate in their best interests.

But the responsibility does not simply lay on the university. It relies on students to speak up and speak out about their mental health experience within higher education so all students can have access to the resources they need to be healthy.

In the 2016 interim report of the Mental Health committee they state:

“In August, the Texas Tribune reported that the appointment wait times for on-campus mental health services is two to three weeks at Texas’ largest public institutions. Schools claimed this is largely due to workforce shortages. The provider-to-student ratio recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services is 1:1,000 – 1,500, depending on other services offered by the institution. Of the University Systems and/or college campuses that were invited to testify, only the University of Houston-Victoria is in compliance with the staff-to-student ratio recommendation with a ratio of 1:1,403. Other invited campuses have ratios ranging from 1:1,600 to 1:7,000.”

The ratio of students to counselors at the University of Houston is 1:3,292. We must end the stigma around mental health and getting help. The committee was formed for this very purpose; it is crucial that students have a voice in it.

Each year committees put out annual reports on their findings and their progress for the year. In the 2016 interim report of the mental health committee, it outlines their challenges and their recommendations for mental health services in higher education institutions:

Challenges:

  • Many students in higher education institutions suffer from mental health illness, especially anxiety. Second only to financial constraints, mental health issues cause students to drop out of school. Institutions of higher learning at a minimum are required to have information on their websites about the availability of mental health services, but students may need additional services provided and not all campuses are compliant.
  • Mental health services on campuses of two year institutions are sparse to non-existent, although these facilities serve a great number of students.
  • Mental health services provided by four year institutions have a disparity in the degree provision, from stellar to sparse.

Recommendations:

  • House Bill 197 should be amended to tighten compliance and ensure crisis resources are readily available to anyone on the school’s website.
  • Require the crisis hotline number to be displayed on the back side of every student ID card.
  • Require a PHQ9 depression screening for every student who presents to the general campus student health center to increase collaboration between health and counseling centers, as well as emphasize early intervention. If a student falls within a specified guideline on the scale, the student must then be referred to the campus counseling center for a consultation.
  • Promote community resources to help ease the burden of higher education counseling centers. Though community resources vary across the state, and each school has access to different kinds of resources, they are valuable and necessary partnerships to help students stay in school and receive services at the same time.
  • Promote the psychological health of the counseling center staff with routine staff wellness checks.
  • Provide statutory guidance regarding the minimum services state institutions of higher education should provide, along with state funding and requiring these institutions to interact with their LMHA.

By knowing the challenges, the recommendations and the representatives on the committee, one can see where the legislature lies on the issue. One can predict the legislation that will come up in this session.

Millennials are often labeled as complacent and entitled. It is time that we change that image and make sure that we are educated on the issues and take action while we can. 
The best way to do that is by contacting the legislators that author bills that affect you, by lobbying at the capitol and by voting.

We have the opportunity to make our universities better than when we arrived on campus, and we have the opportunity to speak up and end the stigma around mental health. I challenge you to make a change.

Delaney Catlettstout is a political science senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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