Legislation Would Increase Access to Mental Health Programs on College Campuses
The mental wellness of college students has been steadily declining over the past decade. Between 2013 and 2021, there was an overall 135% increase in depression and a 110% increase in anxiety among college students. This already dire situation was only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which students experienced heightened stress and prolonged isolation. This has created a pressing need for mental health services on college campuses.
Legislation (A-3713) sponsored by Assembly Democrats Sadaf Jaffer, Sterley Stanley and Anthony Verrelli aims to provide critical support for students by establishing the “College Mental Health Services Grant Program” to help increase access to mental health services on college campuses. The Assembly Higher Education Committee advanced the bill on Monday.
“Supporting New Jersey’s college students means doing more than just putting them on the path to academic success,” said Assemblywoman Jaffer (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “The College Mental Health Services Grant Program will improve access to potentially life-saving resources by eliminating barriers that stand in the way of students seeking treatment. Mental health concerns deserve the same level of urgency as any other illness or condition, and we cannot let staffing shortages or long waits prevent students from getting help when they need it.”
Grants received by public higher education institutions under this program would be provided for a three-year period and could be used for the following:
- developing initiatives to reduce wait times for students seeking mental health services and supports;
- hiring additional mental health professionals to provide mental health services and supports to students at the institution;
- contracting with independent public or private entities to provide mental health services and supports;
- creating methods to enhance the identification of students who may be experiencing personal, school, or family difficulties impacting the student’s mental health;
- implementing efforts to increase awareness among students of existing on-campus and community resources for students experiencing mental health difficulties; and
- offering Mental Health First Aid accreditation to staff and students.
“The pandemic took a toll on the mental health of everyone, especially our young people. Accessible mental health services should be on every New Jersey college campus,” said Assemblyman Stanley (D-Middlesex). “By providing grants to fund these critical services, we will be able to reach more students who are struggling and show them that help is always available.”
The bill would also require public institutions of higher education to post information about student use of their mental health services on their website, including the ratio of students who seek mental health services to mental health professionals and the average wait time to secure an appointment.
“With the College Mental Health Services Grant Program we can ensure New Jersey colleges have the tools they need to help students who often feel they have nowhere to turn,” said Assemblyman Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “This program will help ensure students in need don’t fall through the cracks.”
The bill now heads to the Speaker for further consideration.