SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson Announces Launch of System-Wide Student Mental Health Task Force

October 10, 2019

Group will Examine Practices to Benefit Student Mental Health and Deliver Recommendations to Board of Trustees this Academic Year

Albany – State University of New York Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson today announced the formation of the SUNY Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force. The group will make recommendations on how the system can make a measureable difference in addressing the mental health needs of students and mitigating the negative effects of behavioral health risks, including suicide.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented surge in mental health issues among young adults in particular, including anxiety, depression, and suicide,” said SUNY Chancellor Johnson. “Not only will we expand our resources and safety nets across SUNY, we will also strengthen our early interventions to better ensure we reach our students in need and get them to sources of help. On today, World Mental Health Day, we reaffirm our broad view of what it means to provide student support services for a safe and secure learning environment.”

The task force will focus on early interventions and explore existing practices and public health approaches across the nation to address the mental health needs of SUNY students. The task force will also investigate, develop, and recommend strategies for scaling evidence-based and innovative models for student support across all 64 SUNY campuses.

The group will simultaneously work to identify and apply for external funding to supplement New York State aid. SUNY was recently awarded a portion of the $3.68 million Garrett Lee Smith Grant received by the New York State Office of Mental Health to assist with suicide prevention.

The new task force is co-chaired by Dr. Deborah F. Stanley, president of SUNY Oswego, and Dr. Wayne Riley, president of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. It is being coordinated by SUNY Associate Provost of Student Affairs Dr. John L. Graham, and the newly appointed, system-wide Director of Student Wellness, Dr. Leah Wentworth.

“Assessing and evaluating the mental health status, programs and policies and fostering the well-being of students across the entire State University of New York system is a matter of highest priority” said Dr. Wayne J. Riley, President of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. “I applaud the SUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellor Kristina Johnson for establishing this System-wide Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force to serve our students to enhance their successful higher education journey.”

"Chancellor Johnson and the SUNY Board of Trustees have identified a critical and growing need to address the mental health needs of students across the entire State University of New York system," said SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley. "It is essential that we work together in providing a learning environment that emphasizes greater awareness, understanding and access to mental health care resources as both a foundational component of personal growth as well as an integral element of participating in a learning community. I look forward to serving on the Mental Health and Wellness Task force and co-chairing with Dr. Riley, as we lead a talented and diverse professional team focused on the health and well-being of all our students."

The group is comprised of system administration staff, campus presidents, counseling center and student affairs staff, and faculty, as well as state and national mental health experts. The task force will present their findings in a report to the SUNY Board of Trustees by the end of the current academic year.

According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State, mental health problems are worsening on college campuses. In its 2018 report, the center looked at data from 152 colleges and universities involving 180,000 college students who sought mental health treatment. The report found that between fall 2009 and spring 2016, counseling center usage went up an average of 30 to 40 percent, despite enrollment increases of 5 percent. The center also found that the number of distressed students who seriously considered attempting suicide increased, from 24 percent in 2010-2011 to nearly 36 percent in 2017-2018.

SUNY’s efforts come on the heels of the first report from the New York State Suicide Prevention Task Force, which was released last April. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo created the task force in 2017 to increase awareness and access to supportive services for groups at risk for suicide, including members of the LGBTQ community, Latinas, and veterans. Recommendations from the report include strengthening public health prevention efforts, integrating suicide prevention in healthcare, timely sharing of data for surveillance and planning, and infusing cultural competence throughout suicide prevention activities.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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