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UVA Students Concerned Over Advancing Mental Health Bills

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RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Bills to address college students in mental health crisis have advanced in both the Virginia House and Senate, but not without controversy.

On February 5, the House of Delegates unanimously passed HB 1715, which would set up more training, response policies, and a threat assessment team for when a student at a public university or college might be suicidal.

On February 10, the Senate passed SB 1122 by a vote of 24-13. The Senate's bill would require parents of a student who is not receiving treatment from the school's mental health center to be notified if that student is exhibiting suicidal tendencies. The bill is facing scrutiny.

39th District Sen. Barker (D), the sponsor of the SB 1122, says his legislation would not break any federal laws dealing with student privacy. "In a case that was handled in circuit court, the judge found that the university did not act properly and mandated that that particular university develop policies to do precisely what that bill does," he stated.

Some students at the University of Virginia are not happy that the House and Senate are considering these bills. They say one of the major concerns they have about this legislation is that any future policies mandated by the legislation could required students to report to people who are not mental health professionals.

Students are also concerned that the bills' broad term for “suicidal tendencies” is too ambiguous, and it could be misinterpreted by resident advisers and faculty.  They say releasing confidential information to threat assessment teams - that could then pass it one of their parents - will deter people from reporting mental illness problems they may be going through.

"If I can't trust you to talk about something completely private in my personal life, without it being reported to someone else, I'm not going to seek out that conversation. I think that's true for a lot of students who experience issues with mental health," said Taylor Gestwick, a student advocate.

Student advocates also say bringing in parental notification too soon can hurt a person's chance of rehabilitating from mental illness or suicidal behaviors.

Members of the UVA Student Council and other students plan to go to Richmond on Friday to lobby against both bills.

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