A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Colleges Addressing Mental Health Needs of Students: A Few Thoughts

Colleges Addressing Mental Health Needs of Students: A Few Thoughts

October 26, 2009

NPR’s Morning Edition today featured a story about efforts by certain colleges to more effectively address the mental health needs of their students. A wide-ranging piece, there were some points worth pulling out and thinking about.

Stigma remains a tragically persistent barrier for many individuals and families touched by mental illness. That colleges are recognizing that this is a major issue and are devoting resources to helping their students is to be commended. Every time there is an acknowledgement of mental health needs, it is one more step we are taking toward a day when illnesses of the brain are treated no differently than those of kidneys or lungs.

One troubling anecdote in the story was the way in which local police responded to a 911 call about what the caller believed to be a potentially suicidal student. Of course, the caller was 100% correct in calling for help (far better to err on the side of caution than to do nothing and risk tragic consequences) and the police did what they thought necessary to prevent a death. However, certain aspects of the police response (shouting, aggression, threats of involuntary hospitalization) show a lack of training and understanding of how to deal with mental health needs. The Parent-Professional Advocacy League has prepared a guide for police responding to youth with mental health needs that should be mandatory ready nationally.

Some of the challenges highlighted in the article are almost exactly the same as what we have found here in Massachusetts: long wait lists for young people to see mental health providers; high costs associated with care; undiagnosed mental illnesses that developed during early teen years; and a reexamination of the role of schools (either secondary or post-secondary) as health providers for students.

In state advocacy work, it’s always nice to see how what you’re doing connects to a larger, national scene. The omnibus legislation passed last session and this session’s coordination of care bill are both significant steps down the path toward addressing the very concerns raised by NPR.

Matt Noyes
Policy Manager