“Starting July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline became more easily reachable—simply by dialing 988. With mental health crises burdening so many, this is a welcome step. Robust and effective suicide prevention starts with early intervention through timely and easy access to mental health care. For college students burdened and struggling, including nontraditional students who commute to campus and in many cases have work and parenting responsibilities, what’s readily available on campus is critical.
Crafting the minds of tomorrow is job No. 1 for our colleges and universities. But we are expecting today’s college students to succeed academically while ignoring their critical mental and emotional health needs. Last year, Congress increased funding for mental health support for youth through the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Memorial Act Youth Suicide Prevention Program but kept the funding for higher education within the GLS Campus Grants at $6.488 million, the same amount allocated in fiscal year 2021.
As students in higher education continue to speak more openly about their growing mental health struggles, leaders both on and off campus must pay attention. Even prior to the pandemic, our campuses were struggling to keep up with the mental health needs of their students. As the pandemic has subsided and the mental health crisis continues to grow, they are even less equipped to provide critical assistance as much, or as fast, as needed. Mental health support should be as accessible as faculty office hours. We’re falling gravely short.
For students, this need is urgent.
Between 2013 and 2018, the percentage of students, with an average age of 21, attempting suicide doubled, and the proportion of students reporting severe depression increased from 9 percent to 21 percent. The fall 2021 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment survey showed that almost 73 percent of students reported struggling with moderate or severe psychological distress. Approximately 70 percent of college presidents have identified student struggles with mental health as a priority need.”