Press Releases

Rep. Porter Reintroduces Legislation to Meet Students’ Mental Health Needs

Congresswoman’s bill would help universities strengthen mental health protections

Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-CA), along with Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), reintroduced legislation to protect the rights of students struggling with mental health challenges. The Student Mental Health Rights Act would require the Secretary of Education to study student mental health and campus policies and, in consultation with the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, publish guidance on how colleges and universities can better comply with federal mental health laws. 

“It isn't enough to have laws on the books if they're not actually helping people who need treatment," said Rep. Porter. “Federal law is supposed to protect students who are struggling with their mental health, but many still face barriers to the care and resources that they need. My Student Mental Health Rights Act would help safeguard students from unhelpful—and at times, actively harmful—campus policies.”

Federal law prevents colleges and universities from discriminating against students because of their mental health needs, but few safeguards exist to determine compliance. Roughly 40% of college students experienced depression and 34% experienced anxiety in 2020, and 60% of undergraduates reported trouble accessing any type of mental health care.

“Many college students are experiencing depression or anxiety and would benefit from accessible mental health care on campus,” said Rep. Bonamici. “Students should be able to receive the help they need with sufficient support from their academic institution. I’m grateful to Rep. Porter for the Student Mental Health Rights Act, and I’m happy to partner with her to help destigmatize mental health, support students, and align college mental health policies with federal guidelines.”

The Student Mental Health Rights Act is supported by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and the National Center on Learning Disabilities.

“We are grateful to Representative Porter for re-introducing legislation to address the discrimination experienced by students with disabilities and improve compliance with disability rights laws,” said Ira Burnim, Legal Director of the Judge Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “We have seen a surge in requests for help from students, particularly students of color, denied equal educational opportunity at their college or university. Federal guidance and a comprehensive review of current practices will help ensure that students get the fair and even-handed treatment they deserve.”

“The pandemic has created a mental health crisis across the country, but has especially impacted our nation's young people. We applaud Representative Porter and her co-leads for introducing the Student Mental Health Rights Act, which would enable colleges and universities to better support students with psychiatric disabilities," said the National Center for Learning Disabilities' Director of Policy and Advocacy Lindsay Kubatzky. “Because of Congresswoman Porter's leadership on this important legislation, Congress has taken a critical first step to recognize that we must do more to ensure college students get the support they need to be healthy and successful.”

A consistent advocate for improving mental health care, Porter has repeatedly urged her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to better protect young people struggling with mental health issues. She has praised Orange County schools for prioritizing the mental health needs of students, and recently introduced legislation to improve mental health coverage for public servants, including public school teachers, firefighters, and police. Her bill to crack down on insurers that fail to cover mental health services the same as physical health services was signed into law in 2020.