Trenton – In an effort to highlight and address the growing youth mental health epidemic, the Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Senators Troy Singleton and M. Teresa Ruiz which would require public schools to administer depression screenings for adolescent students and also issue reports on the number of mental health professionals employed by the school district.
“We cannot wait another moment to address adolescent depression. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and accelerated youth depression over the past year. This is not just a mental health problem – it is a public health problem,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “Both pieces of legislation address separate issues within the same sphere: one provides for annual school-based mental health screenings, acting as a preemptive measure against this debilitating illness, and the other would focus on whether or not school districts are providing students with sufficient mental health support. Delivering these services to our kids can help to identify the symptoms of depression before it’s too late or it turns into a life-long cycle.”
“Prior to the pandemic, teenage depression was already a prevalent issue, with suicide being the third leading cause of death for those ages ten to 24,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex), Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “Months of isolation has only exacerbated the issue and further strained young adults' social and emotional well-being. It is important we are doing all that we can to diagnose mental health issues and provide students with the support that they need.”
The first bill, A-970/S-2259, would require boards of education to ensure that students in grades seven through twelve receive health screening for depression annually. The screening would be conducted electronically, using a screening tool selected by the Commissioners of Education and Children and Families. The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 37-0.
The second bill, S-2811, would require school districts to report the number of school psychologists and security personnel employed by the district. Other mental health professionals counted would include guidance counselors, social workers and student assistance coordinators. The reports would also have to contain the ratio of students to school mental health professionals. Currently, school districts are only required to submit information and data to the Department of Education for categories such as academic achievement, district spending and student discipline. The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 37-0.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.8 million young people between the ages of 12-17 experience at least one major depressive episode each year. Approximately ten to 15 percent of teenagers exhibit at least one symptom of depression at any time, and about five percent of teenagers suffer from major depression at any time. Teenage depression has led to a 70 percent increase in suicides between 2006 and 2016. According to the ACLU, millions of students are in schools with a law enforcement presence, but without any mental health, health care or social work professionals.