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Rep. Porter Introduces Legislation to Protect Students’ Mental Health Rights

Congresswoman’s bill would help bring university mental health policies up to standard

Congresswoman Katie Porter (CA-45) today introduced legislation to protect students struggling with mental health challenges. The Student Mental Health Rights Act would ensure that mental health policies on college campuses are consistent with existing federal guidelines.

“Too many students across the country who face mental health challenges find themselves dealing with an additional burden of unhelpful, or at times actively harmful, campus policies,” said Congresswoman Porter, a longtime law professor. “My Student Mental Health Rights Act would help ensure that students struggling with mental health aren’t discouraged from seeking the help they need. This legislation will take care of students and help them succeed—I’m going to keep pushing to get this done.”

Under federal law, colleges and universities are not allowed to enact policies that discriminate against students because of their mental health needs. The Student Mental Health Rights Act, led by Porter and Representatives Joe Courtney (CT-02) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26) will help colleges and universities come into compliance with federal guidelines on mental health policies, resulting in better campus policies to support students.

“As Congress and our communities continue to work to destigmatize mental health challenges, we must do more to make sure college students—many who are living away from their families for the first time—have the supports and services they need on campus to thrive,” Congressman Courtney said. “I want to thank Rep. Porter for her leadership on this important legislation to help better align colleges with federal policies and improve our understanding of mental health challenges among college students.” 

“College campuses around Florida and across the country are seeing an increase in the rates of students experiencing depression and anxiety. In fact, recent data shows that three out of five students experienced overwhelming anxiety, and two out of five experienced serious depression,” Congresswoman Mucarsel-Powell said. “Unfortunately, due to stigma or fear of negative consequences, only a small percentage of students seek out help. To make matters worse, on some campuses, students who do come forward are turned away or even punished for looking for assistance.  This is a serious crisis and we must act to alleviate it.  The Student Mental Health Rights Act is an important step in ensuring that students on college campuses across the country are comfortable seeking and receiving the mental health services they need.”

The Student Mental Health Rights Act will:

  • Direct the Secretary of Education to study student mental health and campus policies at colleges and universities; and
  • Require the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, to issue guidance on how colleges and universities can comply with federal law on mental health.

The National Council on Disability is the supporting federal advisory body for the legislation.

Additionally, the bill is supported by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mental Health America, National Education Association, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, State Council on Developmental Disabilities, National Center for Learning Disabilities, American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Active Minds, American Counseling Association, National Register of Health Service Psychologists, National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health, School Social Work Association of America, National Association for Children's Behavioral Health, SMART Recovery, American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors, Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice.

“We are grateful to Representative Porter for introducing legislation to address the widespread discrimination experienced by college students with mental health disabilities and improve compliance with disability rights laws,” said the Bazelon Center for Mental Health’s Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Jennifer Mathis. “College is a critical time in young people's lives and it is imperative that we do more to ensure that students with psychiatric disabilities are fairly treated, and are not inappropriately placed on leaves of absence or otherwise discriminated against based on fears and stereotypes.”

Congresswoman Porter has been a consistent advocate for improving mental health care. Over the summer, she visited Children’s Hospital of Orange County and toured their new mental health facility. Earlier this year, she introduced bipartisan legislation to better enforce federal laws that require that mental health coverage cannot be more restrictive than coverage for other medical care.