In the state legislature’s final hour of the 2019 session, the House voted without objection, following unanimous support in April by the Senate, to create a task force to study “the policies and procedures adopted by each institution of higher education in Connecticut regarding the prevention and treatment of mental illness in students.”
The task force is to recommend a state-wide policy regarding mental health services available to students at institutions of higher education, to be to the Higher Education and Employment Advancement and Public Health Committees by January 1, 2020.
For each institution of higher education in the state, such study shall include, but need not be limited to, an examination of:
the manner in which the institution informs students of the availability of mental health services,
the manner in which the mental health services are delivered to students, including whether mental health services are available online, through individual counseling sessions or group discussions and a listing of the types of mental health care providers available to students,
the rate at which the mental health services are utilized in comparison to the total student body,
the level of engagement the institution has with community or nonprofit organizations that provide mental health treatment and services,
In addition, the legislation, which now goes to Gov. Lamont for his signature, calls for a review of:
the solicitation and review of voluntary recommendations of students and alumni that received mental health services while enrolled at the institution,
the manner in which the institution facilitates the return of students that take a leave of absence due to mental illness,
the training provided to faculty and staff to identify students experiencing mental illness
Under the provisions of the legislation, the Task Force will also do an analysis of the rate at which different types of mental health services are sought by students, including, but not limited to, the rate at which services for substance use disorder, depression or anxiety are sought.
In a public hearing earlier this year on the proposal, Jennifer Widness, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, pointed out that “Higher education institutions in Connecticut are aware of the dramatic increase in the need for mental health services on college campuses over the past ten years and have responded accordingly. All our member institutions offer a wide range of prevention programs and treatment options at both residential and non-residential campuses.”
Alexandra Beaudoin, Director of Government Relations for the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, indicated that “We are supportive of connecting students to mental illness treatments both off and on campuses and committed to addressing all degrees of mental health. Many of our students are low-income or first generation students who lack adequate supports, making this bill even more crucial. CSCU recognizes access to mental and behavioral health as one of the top barriers to academic success.”
On behalf of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, Susan Kelly, the organization’s director of policy and advocacy, said “Without adequate supports and mental health services, students often leave school. 37 percent of students with a mental health condition ages 14-21 and older have the highest school drop-out rate of any disability group. The American College Health Association reports, based on its 2015 student survey, that mental health needs of students are often ‘directly related to measures of academic success.’”
The 10-member Task Force would include the state’s Commissioner of Mental health and Addiction Services and the president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, or their designees. Other appointments would be made by the Senate President, House Speaker, and majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate.
Appointments are to be made 30 days after final approval of the legislation with the initial meeting of the task force members to occur within the following month.