The Mississippi Student Body Presidents’ Council has taken a huge stride in holding universities accountable for providing mental health resources.

Last semester, the council approached the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) to lobby on behalf of students to address some concerns regarding mental health resources on campuses.

Mississippi State University Student Association President Mayah Emerson said the council provided joint resolutions asking the IHL board create a task force setting standards for mental health resource across all of the institutions in the state.

Emerson, who is also the president of this council, said while MSU has mental health resources readily available, some other institutes may not.

“While there is always room from improvement, Mississippi State actually does well in regards to the mental health resources that we offer,” Emerson said. “However, some of the other students in the state of Mississippi do not have access to the kind of support that Mississippi State students do.”

On Jan. 24, the council met with Board of Trustees President Shane Hooper and IHL Commissioner Alfred Rankins in order to formally make the request for a task force. As a result of the meeting and legislation, the task force was assembled and will investigate ways to provide more mental health resources to students.

“This task force will examine the services that each of our universities offer, and create a benchmark, or standard of what mental health resources should be available on our campuses,” Emerson said.

Emerson said this standard will be used to help keep Mississippi universities accountable for offering resources.

According to a letter sent to the board of trustees by the Student Body Presidents’ Council, Mississippi falls far behind in making resources available to its residents. The letter cites Mental Health America, stating Mississippi ranks sixth overall in prevalence of mental illness and 51st in access to care. Additionally, the letter states the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has found a national increase in mental health diagnoses among college students from 22 percent in 2007 to 36 percent in 2017. The APA has also identified an increase in treatment of students for mental health diagnoses from 19 percent to 34 percent.

“In contrast to this data, many public institutions in the state lack adequate mental health services and staff while suffering from budget reductions,” the letter states. “As a voice for the students of the state of Mississippi, it is our duty as a state to support all students who are in need and to demonstrate our commitment to mental health and how it affects all students.”

Emerson said this initiative is extremely beneficial to students all across the state.

“This task force is an absolute win for students at Mississippi State and for college students across the state of Mississippi,” Emerson said. “This student-led initiative has made our governing body aware of issues concerning students, and I could not be more proud of the work that was done in order to make that happen.”

Emerson said the task force would not be possible without help from the MSU administration, public officials and the student advocacy of the Student Body Presidents’ Council. The council is made up of student body from nine universities in Mississippi: MSU, University of Southern Mississippi, Jackson State University, Delta State University, Alcorn State University, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State University, University of Mississippi and University of Mississippi Medical Center.

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