New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

SGA pushing for statewide suicide prevention policies in universities

The student government is working with other student leaders in New York state to introduce a bill that would require universities to implement certain suicide prevention measures if passed.
Krish Dev
The proposed College Student Suicide Prevention Act. (Graphic by Krish Dev)

Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide.

NYU’s Student Government Assembly is working alongside over 50 student governments from universities across the state to introduce a bill to the New York state senate “uniformly requiring” colleges to develop suicide prevention, intervention and response policies.

The group of student governments — called the New York Students for Mental Health Action Coalition  — is spearheading the proposal, which would require universities to provide suicide prevention and mental health aid training for resident assistants, staff, advisers and security personnel. The bill, the College Student Suicide Prevention Act, would establish a new article under New York’s state education law if passed. 

SGA chair Ryan Carney is working with Vignesh Subramanian, the head of the coalition, to propose the legislation to the New York state senate. Subramanian said the bill is sponsored by Assembly Higher Education Committee chair Patricia Fahy and tentatively sponsored by Senate Higher Education Committee member Lea Webb

“There is a gap that needs to be bridged between people who actually need help and who are experiencing these crises and the services that are available,” Subramanian told WSN. “Many times, people don’t know what services are offered or have never reached out to a professional for help before, and so taking that first step, and knowing what direction to turn to as a way to access help, is really what our measures are about for students in the most dire need.”

The coalition’s bill also proposes that universities develop outreach strategies, partner with community mental health providers, conduct assessments of suicide-prone areas and revise leave-of-absence policies to decrease the amount of students withdrawing from school due to mental health concerns.

Currently, there is no New York state law mandating suicide prevention training in education. The state also doesn’t require colleges and universities to include the national suicide prevention hotline on student identification cards, unlike 11 other states, or provide students with information about mental health and suicide prevention resources on campus, unlike four other states. 

NYU’s self-stated “greatest mental health resource” is its 24-hour hotline — known as the Wellness Exchange — which allows for students to speak with certified counselors about health concerns. The university’s Student Health Center also provides some mental health services, and can connect students looking for long-term therapy to around 195 counselors that accept those under Wellfleet, NYU’s insurance plan provider, in addition to some other plans. Students can also seek psychiatric assessment and treatment through the SHC, although the cost depends on insurance. Students under Wellfleet pay “a small out-of-pocket co-payment” for psychiatric services, while those using other plans and without out-of-network coverage must pay the full fee. 

The legislation would also mandate residential staff and campus security to learn Question, Persuade and Refer — a training program aimed at teaching the warning signs of a suicide crisis.

The student government coalition had previously attempted to include colleges, universities and K-12 schools as an amendment to a different state bill, the Student Suicide Prevention Act. As it stands the act, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, would require suicide prevention, intervention and response policies from grades 7-12. 

The act’s sponsor in the New York State Assembly, Daniel O’Donnell, allegedly delayed responding to the student government coalition about the proposed amendment, and opted to move forward with the bill without including provisions for universities and lower grade levels. According to Subramanian, O’Donnell may have been concerned about the amendment leading to a lengthier legislative process. Subramanian said that since the coalition did not receive O’Donnell’s affirmative approval, it will move forward by introducing the separate college-only bill.

A spokesperson for O’Donnell said he was not available to provide comment at this time.

In December, NYU’s student government issued a letter of support to President Linda Mills, calling on the university to acknowledge and support the SSPA as a way to “improve its efforts to aid students in their relationships with their mental health.” Carney said that the university “responded positively to the letter,” and noted that NYU appointed Zoe Ragouzeos — a longtime administrator in the university’s Student Affairs division — as vice president for student mental health and well-being in February.

Ian Askie, the SGA’s senator at-large for Black students, co-wrote the letter of support alongside the senator for the Steinhardt Graduate Student Organization. He said existing resources, such as the Wellness Exchange, are not always reliable and accessible. Askie also said that while students on campus have resident assistants, incident response teams and professional staff as crisis response contacts, there is not a direct resource for people who live off campus. There are also no existing policies in the RA handbook that address suicide prevention.

“I do know a lot of RAs that have had a decent amount of mental crisis situations to deal with and the general ordeal is surrounding academic work, academic work relating to life, or being at NYU and having that experience of not necessarily finding a support network,” Askie, who is an RA at Weinstein Hall, said. “Those are typically things people end up having issues with.”

Adam Brown, a psychology professor at The New School, is trying to improve access to mental health services through the university’s Trauma and Global Mental Health Lab. Brown said he has seen high levels of mental health concern among young people through his work, and long waitlists at student health centers on a national level.

“There has been an enormous recognition across the country, certainly in New York, that we need to make sure we provide provide young people on college campuses, or all college students, with access to mental health care — and we have seen large investments over the last couple of years to that point,” Brown told WSN. “However, we are seeing, given the profound levels of concern in numbers of people who are showing up to mental health centers to see specialists, that the needs are outpacing the availability of resources.”

Brown also emphasized the importance for college students to receive research-supported care for specific issues they might be dealing with. He added that the care should be both contextually and culturally responsive, given that students might avoid seeking help because of stigma or concern that providers might not be able to “connect with the unique problems they are dealing with.”

“What’s really critical are strong networks within college campuses and into the broader community because, in my opinion, it’s not just about one place on campus to get help but it’s making sure people across campus are able to make good referrals and share resources and knowledge among various departments and people,” Brown said. “When campuses have the resources to bring the university community together to identify the kinds of strategies that might be most impactful and to invest in different trainings, there is enormous potential to have a huge impact on the mental health and well-being of students across their entire journey at school.”

A university spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Spokespeople for Hoylman-Sigal, Fahy and Webb also did not respond to requests for comment.

Contact Adrianna Nehme at [email protected]

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About the Contributors
Adrianna Nehme
Adrianna Nehme, News Editor
Adrianna Nehme is a sophomore still trying to decide what to major in. Originally from a small town in Indiana, she moved to Chicago, Illinois for high school — where she was also the news editor for the school paper! She loves experiencing music live at concerts, seeking restaurants to try in the city and reading fiction novels — her all-time favorite is "The Cider House Rules" by John Irving. Check out her latest adventures on Instagram @adrianna.nehme.
Krish Dev
Krish Dev, Multimedia Editor
Krish is a first-year planning to major in Computer Science and Linguistics at CAS. In his free time, he enjoys posting photos on @krish_dev.creations, obsessing over geography, watching new films with friends, taking public transport to new places and letting Arsenal make or break his week.

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