Collaborative Efforts to Address Mental Health Issues
BY JEANNE MILLER
When the subject of student mental health comes up, what are your first thoughts? Do you recall the tragic shootings that have occurred on college campuses? Do you think of the challenges in assessing the risk of violence among students? What about FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and other confidentiality restrictions that we must negotiate when helping a suicidal student?
While these are realistic concerns, other significant but less
sensational mental health issues among our students must
not be ignored. Many students are at the age at which major
psychological disorders emerge. At the same time, increasing
numbers of students are benefiting from the use of psychotropic medications that have been prescribed before they arrive
on campus. Their disorders and their medications often cannot be managed in the off-campus community, and they turn
to campus mental health services. Students are often affected
by the mental health problems in their families of origin,
whether they are long-standing problems, such as substance
abuse by a family member, or recent distress caused by loss
of a job. All of these factors can negatively affect students’
academic progress and can strain campus resources.
NASPA’s public policy division identifies, educates, and
advocates for federal legislation that affects NASPA member institutions and their students. As part of the Higher
Education Mental Health Alliance (HEMHA), NASPA and
other member organizations are very much aware of the range
of mental health issues that affect students, and they have
joined together to address them through public policy.
Member organizations of HEMHA, such as the American
College Health Association (ACHA), Association of University
and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD), and
American College Counseling Association (ACCA) are on the
front lines of educating, assessing, and treating our students.
Others, including the American Psychological Association
(APA), the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA),
and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), represent
the broader national conversation about mental health in our
society and about college students as a subset of the population. ACPA-College Student Educators International and
NASPA focus on all campus issues, while The Jed Foundation
focuses on the mental health of students with special attention
to reducing the risk of suicide.
These organizations bring to bear the expertise and
resources of 217,000 members nationwide. HEMHA’s mission
is to provide leadership through this partnership of organizations, including advocacy, policy, practice, and research.
HEMHA has already begun advocating for federal legislation, lobbying in support of the Mental Health on Campus
Improvement Act of 2009, which proposes that federal
funding be used to help campuses address the mental health
of students. The next meeting of HEMHA will be hosted by
NASPA at the 2010 NASPA Annual Conference in Chicago,
where a panel of HEMHA representatives will present the
organization’s agenda and solicit feedback on priority issues
that the group can address.
NASPA’s participation in consortia with other professional
organizations has proven effective in generating public interest related to issues in higher education, providing testimony
to governmental bodies regarding legislation, and developing a stronger voice for advocating for institutions of higher
education and their students. NASPA also participates in the
Consortium on Government Relations for Student Affairs
(CGRSA), along with ACPA, the Association for College and
University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I), the
Association of Student Conduct Administration (ASCA),
and the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association
(NIRSA). CGRSA Legislative Consultant Carol Holladay will
provide an update at the 2010 NASPA Annual Conference
about current and recent legislation, including the Higher
Education Opportunity Act. LE
Jeanne Miller is associate vice president for student life at SUNY College
at Oneonta,N. Y., and is the chair of NASPA’s Public Policy Division.