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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In wake of Sandy Hook, Blunt sponsors mental health bills

Half of MU students reported feeling serious stress last semester.

In response to December’s Newtown, Conn., shooting, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is co-sponsoring three pieces of legislation aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses.

Blunt introduced the Excellence in Mental Health Act, a bill that would strengthen community mental health centers, with Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., on Thursday.

“Millions of people suffer from diagnosable mental disorders across America,” Blunt said in a news release. “But too often, we neglect or miss the warning signs of an individual suffering from a mental health crisis, and we fail to help them in their time of need.”

According to Wellness Resource Center statistics, 11 percent of MU students have experienced major depression, and 31 percent of students have experienced anxiety. The same survey found that half of all students reported feeling too stressed to get their work done or enjoy social activities.

Blunt is also co-sponsoring related mental health bills. The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act would expand mental health services available to inmates and the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013 aims to establish a nationwide training program. The MU Counseling Center currently offers the Mental Health First Aid program, which trains students and staff to identify and refer peers in emotional or mental crisis, counselor Renee Powers-Scott said.

“We’re doing an extensive amount of outreach — the programs are growing tremendously,” Powers-Scott said. “The biggest program we’re doing is Mental Health First Aid, where we’re educating faculty, staff and students. That’s huge right now and happening across campus.”

The program came to MU in January 2012. Funding from the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies allows the counseling center to sponsor free certification courses several times a year.

Although MU already has the training, the Mental Health First Aid Act and other bills aim to funnel federal money into nationwide programs. In an op-ed published in the Kansas City Star shortly after the Connecticut massacre, Blunt commended Missouri’s mental health programs, run by the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, but said the federal government needs to work harder in communities that don’t have adequate access to mental health services.

“State programs like this are a good step in the right direction, but we must also have a comprehensive conversation about the way Washington funds federal programs that treat mental illness, as well as a way to streamline information sharing when someone is identified as dangerously unstable,” Blunt wrote.

At MU, mental health resources are financed through student fees, university funds and outside sources. The WRC, MU’s primary drug and alcohol education service, received a suicide prevention grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, WNC Senior Coordinator Joan Masters said.

The WRC is using the grant to bring in suicide-prevention speakers and promote the "Ask, Listen, Refer" online suicide prevention program.

“A lot of people have a lot of anxiety about asking someone (if they feel suicidal),” Masters said. “But that question can very well save someone’s life. We’ve been trying to get as many people trained as possible, so we always look to the future to see how we can get the word out.”

Masters said although the WRC has stress management programs, including peer education services and a “relaxation station” with massage chairs, it also refers students who need additional mental health support to the counseling center, Student Health Services or outside mental health providers.

“In our wellness coaching program students come to us for help with stress, time management and life balance concerns,” Masters said. "If an issue does not meet that criteria, we will refer to resources better equipped to help."

Powers-Scott said the counseling center commonly receives referrals from students’ parents and advisors, although many students also seek out help themselves. She said the counseling center constantly strives to provide greater support to students.

"Each year we see an increase in the number of students who access our services and have had to increase the number of students to serve them," Powers-Scott said.

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