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Fighting for the Future: Students in Virginia Help Make Mental Health Resources Available to Everyone



As I noted in my previous blog on this subject, over the last decade, there has been a dramatic rise in mental health issues for students nationwide.  With a quarter of 18-24 year olds estimated to have diagnosable mental illnesses, we really do appear to be having a mental health crisis. An increasing number of colleges and universities are taking positive and responsible action to ensure the safety and well-being of students by setting up mental health centers and providing students with information about additional mental health resources. Still, the relatively limited reach of a university mental health center may not be enough for some students, particularly if they don’t even know the center exists. 
Coping with mental health problems can be extra challenging for emerging adults. Furthermore, dealing with things like anxiety and depression can be downright debilitating without the proper resources. To date, even at colleges and universities where there is a dedicated staff of counselors and psychologists available to offer services through student health centers, the  lingering stigma attached to mental health and the fact that students remain unaware that these resources exist, prevent many students from getting the help they need.
With all of this seemingly negative news on the subject, it is refreshing and inspiring to know that a group of students at UVa (University of Virginia), called the Young Legislators of Tomorrow, brought this issue to the attention of lawmakers in their state. The group introduced a Bill (House BIll 206) requiring universities to provide more and better information about mental health resources to students. 
In 2014, this legislation passed in the House 99-0, making it a huge win for those determined young people trying to raise awareness and make the world a better place for the students coming after them. It is also a victory for all the future students who will be better able to find the help they need as a result. 
According to Virginia’s Legislative Information System, the summary of the bill is as follows: Four-year public institutions of higher education; mental health resources. Requires each four-year public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth to create and feature on its website a page with information dedicated solely to the mental health resources available to students at the institution. (The bill has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2015.)
The combination of the stigma attached to mental health problems and students’ lack of familiarity with the resources available to them has allowed many to suffer needlessly. Thanks to this group of students, the awareness part of that problem is going to be significantly minimized in the future.


Dr. Eileen Wynne


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