Texas Senate Bill 1624 took effect yesterday, requiring all incoming students at Texas academic institutions to receive information regarding mental health and suicide prevention services. The passage of SB 1624 can be attributed to the parents of Lee Walker, a student who died by suicide at UT in 2014.
The University must use this bill as the beginning of a new approach to advertising the mental health and suicide prevention services on campus. The best way for the University to fulfill this requirement is to host town hall-style gatherings at orientation, mediated by suicide prevention experts. The goal would be to teach students how to recognize signs of depression or suicidal ideation in themselves or others as well as to highlight the abundant University resources available.
A town hall-style approach to suicide awareness is important because it would establish a comfortable environment for students to talk about a difficult subject. It would also allow students to participate in the discussion, ensuring the message is received. Hosting these presentations at orientation would introduce the discussion to students before they are engulfed in the nerve-wracking first semester of their college careers.
If the new program is designed effectively, incoming students who attend the orientation presentation will be able to identify the symptoms and signs of depression and point their peers toward helpful resources. The bystander effect, or the tendency for individuals to disregard a crisis when others are present, must be addressed during these meetings. It is not just the University’s responsibility to help these students, but their communities’ as well.
The University has well established infrastructure, including affordable counseling and 24-hour crisis hotlines, to aid students with mental health needs. What the University needs to do better is inform students of these resources and battle the stigmatism and culture of silence surrounding mental health issues. It could start by notifying students of suicides on campus. Doing so can remind those suffering silently that they are not alone and boost awareness of the resources the University provides.
SB 1624 will not solve the complex problems of mental health and suicide prevention on university campuses, but UT has the opportunity to get a head start and let the students know that they are not alone.