During Mental Health Awareness Month, legislators introduce Student Mental Health Rights Act, legislation requiring the Department of Education to issue guidance to colleges, universities on upholding civil rights

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington (May 25, 2023) – During Mental Health Awareness Month, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security, and Representative Katie Porter (CA-47) today announced the introduction of Student Mental Health Rights Act, legislation that would require the Department of Education (DOE), in consultation with the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), publish guidance for colleges and universities to better support students with mental health disabilities and substance use disorder and to ensure they are meeting existing federal civil rights laws. To inform the guidance, the legislation also would require the Secretary of Education to collect data on the prevalence of mental health disabilities and substance use disorders at colleges and universities, review best practices for supporting students, and assess current policies at academic institutions regarding leaves of absence.

Healthy Minds Network (HMN) reported that from 2021 to 2022, 44 percent of college student suffered from depression and 37 percent suffered from anxiety. However, students reported barriers to accessing care for these and other mental health disabilities, including financial cost, lack of available appointments and confusion on where to seek help. Students with disabilities are protected by civil rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fair Housing Act. Yet, disabled students continue to report discrimination, financial burdens and the denial of reasonable accommodations, which forces students to take involuntary medical leaves of absence, and in some instances, makes their requests for voluntary leaves of absence difficult to access or return from.

“We are in the midst of a mental health crisis, but for too long, we have left students and their schools without a roadmap for navigating it,” said Senator Markey. “Failing to give students and institutions of higher education the resources they need to support students experiencing a mental health crisis or substance use disorder means failing to give all students the opportunity for full and equal access to an education. This legislation will support students who have faced discrimination while providing clarity to academic institutions about their responsibilities to protect students’ civil rights.”

“Our young people cannot thrive and succeed if we do not seriously address our nation’s mental health crisis,” said Representative Porter. “The laws we have on the books aren’t translating into protections for students, which is a sign we must redouble our efforts to get schools to comply with mental health safeguards. My Student Mental Health Rights Act with Senator Markey will help make campuses safer for students in crisis.”

A copy of the Student Mental Health Rights Act can be found HERE.

Cosponsors of the legislation include Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Joe Courtney (CT-02), and Darren Soto (FL-09).

The Student Mental Health Rights Act is endorsed by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychological Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Association on Higher Education and Disability, Council of Administrators of Special Education, International OCD Foundation, National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health, National Association of Social Workers, National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Arc of the United States, the Kennedy Forum, the National Education Association, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Trust for America’s Health, the American Federation of Teachers, and the University of California System.

This month, Senator Markey held a HELP subcommittee hearing convening public health leaders on the need to expand access to mental health care and substance use disorder care. Earlier in May, Senator Markey and Representatives Paul Tonko (NY-20) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) reintroduced their Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act (CMWRA), legislation to establish a first-of-its-kind $36 million pilot grant program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide funding to local community-based mental wellness and resilience programs. In February, Senator Markey and Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-08) sent a letter to Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak, Acting Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), calling for the swift launch of an extensive research initiative on the impact of technology and media on children, teens, and infants, consistent with the Children and Media Research Advancement (CAMRA) Act. Last November, Senator Markey sent a letter to the DOE and the DOJ calling for stronger policies related to involuntary medical leaves of absence to ensure students with disabilities’ access to higher education is protected.