President George W. Bush signed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which includes elements of the APA-drafted Campus Care and Counseling Act, into law on Oct. 21. The bill gives college student mental health services a boost--particularly in youth suicide prevention--with federal funds for education, screening, prevention and intervention programs.
The legislation represents a real milestone in that it incorporates the term "mental and behavioral health" into the statute as well as recognizes the breadth of psychological services that should be available on college campuses, says Cynthia Belar, PhD, APA's executive director of education.
In particular, the bill authorizes $82 million in competitive grants administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration over three years to states, Indian tribes, colleges and universities to address mental and behavioral health problems that may lead to students' academic failure, such as depression, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts. Psychology department training clinics, mental health centers, psychological service centers as well as counseling centers are eligible sites.
The bill, although more limited in scope than the original Campus Care and Counseling Act, is a step toward expanding college student mental health services--which was a key aim of the Campus Care Act, says Jennifer Smulson, APA's senior legislative and federal affairs officer.
"It is recognition of the role mental health and behavioral services play on campus for students to achieve academic and life successes, and the recognition of investing in these services at the federal level," Smulson says.
APA launched an advocacy campaign last year for the bill and successfully gained bipartisan support in the House and Senate. APA members drew from psychological research to show members of Congress the bill's importance, citing an increase of college student depression, stress and anxiety.
APA staff plan to advocate for funding and additional authority to support psychology interns and staff to provide direct mental health services to combat such problems. They will continue to work on improving the legislation during consideration of both the Higher Education Act and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reauthorization next Congress.