To address the fact that suicide is a leading cause of death among
adolescents and college students, the U.S. Senate passed legislation last
month that would provide $10 million for competitive grants to colleges and
universities for student mental health services.
About half of the college students who seek help from campus counseling
centers report feeling hopeless or severely depressed, according to the
American College Health Association.
When college counseling center directors were surveyed last year, 81
percent reported being concerned about the increasing number of students with
severe psychological problems. Sixty-seven percent of these directors said
they needed to increase psychiatric services at their college, according to a
2003 Gallagher's Survey. Robert Gallagher, a psychologist at the University of
Pittsburgh, conducts an annual national survey of counseling centers.
The Senate-approved Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (S 2634) would also
authorize federal grants for state suicide-prevention programs aimed at youth.
The legislation is named for the son of Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). Garrett,
who was 21, committed suicide last year after battling bipolar disorder.
The Campaign for Mental Health Reform, a national coalition of
organizations representing people with mental illnesses, their families,
mental health advocates, and professionals, said that it applauds Sen.
Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and the bill's 30 other cosponsors "for
making youth suicide prevention an important priority by unanimously passing
the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act."
On the Senate floor before the vote, Smith said, "Garrett suffered
emotional pain that I cannot begin to comprehend. He ultimately sought relief
by taking his own life," according to the July 8 Capitol Hill
publication CQ Today.
"Too many families in this country have faced tragedies that could
have been avoided with the proper help, support, and counseling," said
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who cosponsored the legislation with Dodd and Sen.
Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).
Reed spoke at a recent hearing of a subcommittee of the Senate Health,
Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. "We need to identify
the students who are feeling depressed, stressed, and pressured and help them
avoid making a devastating mistake," Reed said.
Universities and colleges could use the grants for suicide-oriented
prevention screenings, early intervention, assessment, treatment, and
management, the legislation says. Funds also could be used to educate students
and parents about mental and behavioral health problems, hire staff, and
expand training of health care staff.
The average ratio of counselors to students at institutions of higher
education with more than 15,000 students is 1 per 2,400 students, according to
the International Association of Counseling Services, which recommends one
counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students.
The 2003 Gallagher's Survey also found that 63 percent of the directors of
college counseling centers were experiencing difficulty meeting the growing
demand for counseling services without additional resources.
The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act was referred on July 9 to the House of
Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The legislation can be accessed online at<thomas.loc.gov>
by searching on the bill number, S 2634. ▪