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MHANYS calls for public policy response to 'mental health crisis in higher education'


Fri, Feb 25th 2022 12:00 pm

Statewide mental health advocacy organization releases white paper that shows need for mental health literacy and whole health parity to address crisis facing students at New York’s colleges and universities

The Mental Health Association in New York State Inc. (MHANYS) has released a white paper calling for a public policy response to what it called a “mental health crisis in higher education.”

A press release explained, “The study reveals the prevalence of mental illness at colleges and universities in the U.S., outlines the impact of this crisis, and considers the exacerbating role of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the release of its white paper, MHANYS has launched its push to advance necessary public policy remedies on behalf of all college students in New York.”

Titled “Mental Health & Higher Education in New York: A Call for a Public Policy Response,” the report advocates for state policy solutions focused on:

√ Expanding mental health literacy among college students, faculty and staff.

√ Applying a whole-health parity approach to college policies, such as leave-of-absence protocols, to ensure mental health needs are considered in line with other medical or physical health needs.

“The mental health crisis on college campuses has long been a pervasive issue, and it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” MHANYS CEO Glenn Liebman said. “Our study makes clear that more needs to be done at the state level to address this mounting problem affecting both public and private colleges and universities. We’re urging New York state to take action and begin to develop a public policy response to provide the support and resources our college students need. We’re grateful to the state lawmakers who have already expressed an eagerness to address this issue and collaborate with us.”

MHANYS said, “The newly released white paper studied the history of mental health in higher education and examined the crisis on today’s campuses. It reviewed research to determine the state of the crisis and its impact on students, and the growing demand for mental health services. In addition to assessing the response on college campuses, the study evaluated the broader public response, focusing on actions taken by the media, courts, advocates and legislatures. These findings were then analyzed against the exacerbating impact of COVID-19 on mental health.”

In 2017, MHANYS released a similar white paper on mental health education in New York schools and made the case for increasing mental health literacy in New York’s primary and secondary schools through a change in the health instruction law. It set in motion a statewide movement to pass a first-in-nation law that requires mental health education to be provided in K-12 classrooms. Similarly, the findings in the higher education white paper indicate a need for legislative actions.

“The college experience should be one of opportunity, academic pursuit and personal growth, not an overwhelming strain on the mental wellness of young people,” said John Richter, MHANYS director of public policy, and the lead author of the white paper. “We have worked hard at the elementary and secondary level to ensure resources are available and whole health parity is being considered, and we hope to continue our efforts as young people enter the next phase of their life. We look forward to working with lawmakers, students and other higher education stakeholders to determine the right path for New York to address this very real crisis.”

MHANYS said, “Recognizing a gap in the State Legislature’s public discussions on mental health in higher education over the past decade, MHANYS identified the need for greater public discourse – ideally within a public forum – to inform the state’s policymaking process.”

To collaboratively build effective policy solutions, MHANYS believes the state’s next steps should focus on:

√ Providing a public venue that brings together stakeholders that are vested in this challenge, including students, parents, college representatives, mental health providers, advocates and government officials.

√ Deeper and ongoing evaluation of the challenge to understand what elements would best respond to public policy solutions to determine the role of state government.

√ Fostering greater understanding of how colleges and the college experience are uniquely contributing to a larger youth mental health crisis as opposed to other societal factors outside of higher education.

Several state lawmakers, especially Sen. Anna M. Kaplan, have already shared commitments with MHANYS to help address higher education’s mental health crisis. Kaplan is sponsoring legislation focused on the mental wellness of SUNY and CUNY students (S.7659).

“For too long, our state has fallen short when it comes to providing for the mental health needs of college students across New York, and with the pandemic exacerbating this issue to crisis level, more must be done to get young people the help that they need,” Kaplan said. “It’s why I’m proud to sponsor legislation in the State Senate that will focus on the mental wellness of SUNY and CUNY students, and it’s why I have always stood up for improved access to mental health services for all New Yorkers. I applaud MHANYS on the release of their critically important white paper, which highlights this issue and provides a framework for addressing it. I look forward to our continued partnership to address the mental health needs for all college students in our State.”

To read MHANYS’ white paper on mental health and education, visit this link.

MHANYS is a nonprofit organization that works to end the stigma against mental illness and promotes mental health wellness in New York. It established the School Mental Health Resource & Training Center to facilitate effective implementation of the new law. Across the state, MHANYS has 26 regional MHA affiliates that are active in 50 counties. For more information, visit https://mhanys.org/.

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