On Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the Utah State Legislature, unanimously passed a resolution to declare mental health a public health crisis at all Utah higher education campuses.
The bill, titled HCR016, originated at Utah State University (USU). It specifically “declares mental health issues to be a public health crisis at Utah higher education institutions and strongly urges Utah’s government and community groups to seek productive, long-term solutions to address the crisis.”
Ashley Waddoups, president of the Utah State University Student Association (USUSA) said she is “really impressed and pleasantly surprised about how enthusiastic the response was.”
The bill — a product of years of work, written and edited by Ty Aller, Ashley Waddoups, Matthew Clewett, Trevor Olsen and several others — was sponsored by Rep. Edward Redd.
Aller is the USUSA graduate studies senator and student regent and is earning his Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy. He said he knew USU needed to take action for those struggling with mental health when he was doing therapy work one day and realized half the therapists he worked with that day, including himself, had seen a student who was suicidal.
“I was thinking ‘holy cow, this is such a prevalent problem on our campus,” he said.
Aller knew the therapists he worked with could help a lot, but there were “only so many people we can see in a week.”
He then decided to help plan Mental Health Week, a week which focused on breaking the stigma behind mental health and encouraging students to seek help if they are struggling.
After the week, which took place during the 2015-2016 academic school year, USUSA began to move forward in creating a statewide resolution.
While the resolution was passed as a bill on Wednesday, it has at least four more steps to go before it is declared a statewide bill. The house, the senate subcommittee and the senate will all have to pass it before it will be signed by Gov. Gary Herbert. However, Matthew Clewett, the USUSA student advocate vice president, said he is confident the bill will pass through each step and be signed by Herbert.
“We’ve been in contact with a lot of people at the capitol and what we’ve seen so far is overwhelming support,” Clewett said.
Bills which are passed in the subcommittee generally have to undergo a long process before they move to the next step, however this bill was expedited, which means it’s brought to the front of the legislative agenda.
Clewett said he is happy about this because it means the bill was seen as an important issue.
In addition to declaring a public health crisis, USUSA approved a $3.50 student fee for USU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) center to hire a new therapist.
Although the fee has been approved by USUSA, the students of USU will vote to either pass or deny it during the week of USUSA elections, which are from Sunday, Feb. 26 to Friday, March 3.
David Bush, the CAPS director, said it is “discouraging when students have legitimate needs and we have to tell them we can’t fit them in for three to four weeks,” which is why he hopes the fee will be approved.
However, Bush also said he is very grateful for the support he has received from USUSA and the central administration.
“I hope they know how much we appreciate their support. I’ve been trying to do this for 10 years with hardly any impact and then USUSA just really stepped it up,” Bush said.
Graphic by Emmalee Olsen