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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Sen. Jack Reed co-sponsors mental health legislation

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URI’ Counseling Center, other centers could benefit nationwide

KINGSTON, R.I. --November 8, 2004 -- Recent studies show a national trend toward more serious mental health needs on college campuses. For example, a 2002 national survey of 274 directors of counseling centers found that more than 80 percent reported that the number of students with severe psychological disorders had risen over the last five years. In addition, the American College Health Association reported in 2000 that 10 percent of college students—12.8 percent of women and 6.2 percent of men—had been diagnosed with depression sometime in their lives.

“Depressed adolescents are at risk for school failure, social isolation, promiscuity, self medication with drugs and alcohol, and suicide, which is now the second leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds,” according to Jim Campbell, director of URI’s Counseling Center. “This year at URI, we have seen a large increase in the number of students seeking services and in urgent requests for services. It is taxing our ability to meet the need.” Shown here: Jim Campbell, director of URI's Counseling Center (left) and URI President Robert L. Carothers (right) thank Sen. Jack Reed for co-sponsoring legislation, which is intended to help create or enhance suicide prevention programs on college campuses.

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed and his colleagues Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) responded to this national mental health concern by authoring a bill that will help college students gain increased access and enhanced mental and behavioral heath services.

The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, named for Sen. Smith’s son who committed suicide, authorizes the government to award $22-million in grants to college mental health centers over a three-year period. The competitive grants will help create new suicide-prevention programs or enhance existing ones. The bipartisan act passed both the House and Senate in September and was signed by the president last month. Given the federal deficit and Congress’ unfinished spending for the 2005 fiscal year, it remains unclear whether the funds will be appropriated anytime soon.

“The funds that could actually end up going to counseling centers will be modest,” says Campbell. “However, I believe the process has educated our senators and congressmen, and their staffs, about college mental health. This may have benefits down the road.”

Campbell worked closely with Reed and legislative members of the American Psychological Association to create the legislation.

URI’s Counseling Center hosted a reception last month attended by counseling directors from Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and Roger Williams University, to honor the senator for his efforts. Campbell presented Reed with a plaque given by the American Psychological Association with gratitude.

“There is surprisingly high interest among the public and among policy makers regarding college mental health,” observes Campbell. “I think most counseling center directors and counselors see advocating for mental health as part of their role on campus. Perhaps we should see ourselves as advocates on the larger public policy stage as well.”