Testimony on SB 303: An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force Regarding the Prevention and Treatment of Mental Illness at Institutions of Higher Education

Committee on Higher Education

March 3, 2020

Submitted By: Stephen Wanczyk-Karp, LMSW

The National Association of Social Workers, CT Chapter representing over 2,400 members is in agreement with the recommendations of SB 303. We offer the following comments as further suggestions to be considered.

Mental health issues amongst students attending higher education facilities is of serious concern. There is significant episodes of anxiety and depression amongst students as well as life adjustments for students away from home. It is common to hear from mental health professionals providing services on campuses that their caseloads are increasing, the degree of problems being treated are serious, and that students may have wait times to be seen that is are far too long. The degree to which services are available amongst schools is very uneven, even between public institutions within the same higher education system. Clearly, there is a tremendous need to address mental health service availability in higher education institutions.

Section 6 of SB 303 calls for the establishment of a task force to study the policies and procedures adopted by each institution regarding prevention and treatment of mental illness and to recommend statewide policy. NASW/CT calls on the Committee on Higher Education to include at least one licensed clinical social worker as a member of the task force. There are over 10,000 social workers licensed by Connecticut (more than psychologists, marital & family therapists and professional counselors combined) and social workers provide approximately two-thirds of all mental health services in our state. As the state’s largest mental health profession, it is imperative that clinical social workers are represented on the task force.

NASW/CT recommends that the Committee looks at the School Based Health Center (SBHC) model as a way to bring onto campuses mental health services. SBHCs are very successful in public schools and over half of their services are for mental health. State institutions in particular should adopt the SBHC model whereby a non-profit organization with expertise in mental health care provides student mental health services on a contractual basis. SBHCs employ licensed mental health providers who are fully qualified practitioners. SB 303, Section 3 does call for at least one community-based mental health provider for the purposes of providing students with mental health services. We urge that this section give preference to contracting with SBHC providers who are already experienced in providing services within an educational setting.

Finally, we urge the Committee to put in place requirements that institutions of higher education only employ licensed mental health providers or graduate level interns in a mental health field under the direct supervision of a licensed mental health practitioner, for the provision of mental health services to students. Currently, schools may use a work study student as a counselor for students. The lack of adequate qualifications may cause more harm than help to students facing mental health problems.

Institutions of higher education must address the mental health needs of their students. SB 303 is a good first step and we support passage of this bill with modifications suggested in this testimony.

Speak Your Mind