TRENTON, N.J. — A bill passed unanimously by the New Jersey Senate Thursday would require public schools to administer screenings for depression in students.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Troy Singleton and M. Teresa Ruiz, passed alongside a second bill that will require school districts to issue reports on the number of mental health professionals employed by the districts.
“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 Sen. Singleton. “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.”
The screenings would occur annually for students in grades seven through 12. It would be conducted electronically, using a screening tool selected by the state’s commissioners of education and children & families.
“Prior to the pandemic, teenage depression was already a prevalent issue, with suicide being the third leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24,” said Sen. Ruiz, 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 second bill requires schools to report how many mental health professionals they employ. This would include guidance counselors, social workers and student assistance coordinators. They are also required to report 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.