Bill requiring mental health, suicide prevention resources at Texas university orientations goes into effect

Lauren Florence

A state law went into effect Tuesday requiring mental health resources and suicide prevention services be given to all incoming college students.

The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1624 on June 18, which requires universities to show students a live presentation or video with information about mental health and suicide as part of their orientation. The bill forbids universities from providing students with this information in a paper format.

Mark and Kathleen Walker, whose son died by suicide in May 2014 after his first year at UT, advocated for the law that would require universities give students mental health and suicide information, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Currently, UT students with previous or current mental health concerns can reach out to counselors at the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center, which offers counseling, a 24-hour crisis hotline and information about mental health stigma and suicide prevention, according to the center’s website. Resources on stress management, depression and suicide are available to students through the counseling center’s website.

Merryn McNeil, advertising junior and co-chair of the social responsibility committee for UT orientation, said orientation advisors also used programming this summer to address mental health in college for incoming students.

“We wanted to convey that mental health issues can affect anyone and it’s normal and okay, and there’s resources on campus and people who are here to help.” McNeil said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 and more than 11,000 people in this age group died by suicide in 2013. Rates of suicide in Texas were 3.7 times greater among males than females in 2013, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, many people experience the first symptoms of depression during their college years, and about 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.” Students might not know where to get help or choose not to get help because they think their symptoms are just part of the typical stress of college, according to the institute.

Another law aiming to increase mental health awareness in higher education also went into effect Tuesday. Lawmakers previously passed House Bill 197, which requires universities to create a website with information on how to access mental health resources.

If you or anyone you know is considering self-harm, here are University and community resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

UT Counseling and Mental Health Center Crisis Line: 512-471-2255

Behavior Concerns Advice Line: 512-232-5050.

For more resources, click here.