U.S. Surgeon General Urges Higher Ed Leaders to Increase Support for Mental Health, Community Gathers to Workshop Solutions
September 09, 2022

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy encouraged higher education leaders and policymakers to increase support and resources for mental health at an event hosted by ACE in Washington, DC last month.

ACE’s Pulse Point surveys have consistently shown that more college and university presidents identify student mental health among their top concerns than any other issue on campus. Mental health is now one of the top reasons many college students are considering dropping out of college, according to a recently released report by Gallup and Lumina Foundation. Murthy pointed out during his “fireside chat” with Lumina President and CEO Jamie Merisotis that this crisis is not new. In December, Murthy issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health, warning of the mental health crisis for young people across the country, who were already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Lumina Foundation sponsored the all-day event, hosted at ACE’s headquarters, which was attended by higher education leaders, organizations, foundations, and representatives. The goal was to develop opportunities and strategies to address the mental health crisis on college campuses.

Murthy said he wants to continue efforts to destigmatize mental health struggles, speaking candidly about his own experiences with bullying and loneliness. “Mental health is not just a side subject we need to address. It’s foundational. It is our fuel. It takes a toll and affects whether we show up or build healthy relationships,” he said. He encouraged institutions to establish programs where students can help each other cope and emphasized the importance of collecting data to see which students on campus are using mental health resources.

Several speakers at the event acknowledged that the mental health crisis cannot be addressed by campus counseling centers alone. ACE President Ted Mitchell spoke about how resources to address this issue on campuses can be limited, especially with all the competing demands. Some institutions don’t have counseling centers or only offer a very limited amount of hours to serve student needs, and those who do have counseling centers find that even with increased capacity they cannot meet demand.

Zainab Okolo, strategy officer at Lumina Foundation, said she imagines a more inclusive and healthier higher education landscape will rest in the willingness of our society and our institutions’ ability to understand the real trauma and hardships experienced by students these last few years and giving them the support they need. “This crisis comes with so much opportunity,” she said.

Hollie Chessman, ACE’s director of research and practice, led the subsequent breakout roundtable sessions, which included representatives from groups like the American College Health Association, Active Minds, Action Network for Equitable Wellbeing, the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University, the Healthy Minds Network, Inseparable, The JED Foundation, the Mary Christie Institute, NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, the Steve Fund, among others.

“My hope is that everyone in this room will leave at the end of our time together energized by future possibilities because they will have established new relationships and networks to inform, disseminate, and fund their work on mental health,” Chessman said.

Watch the opening remarks and fireside chat below.