Seeking to expand mental health resources available on college campuses, the Assembly Higher Education Committee has advanced legislation focused on suicide prevention and mental health.
The Mental Health Early Action on College Campuses Act aims to raise awareness for available mental health services on campus and make it easier for students to access these services.
If passed, the bill would require mental health experts on campus to work with and annually train faculty and resident assistants to recognize signs of depression, as well as warning signs and risk factors of suicide.
Remembering Madison Holleran
This new legislation expands on the Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act, which was enacted in 2016. The Allendale resident committed suicide during the second semester of her freshman year at the age of 19. Her family said they did not see any outward signs of depression before Madison enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Madison’s story should remind us how quiet despair can be. It is our hope that increasing staff and peer training and reducing the stigma around mental health will help reach more students suffering in silence. If just one life is saved, it will have been worth it,” said one of the measure’s sponsor, Mila Jasey (D-27), chair of the Higher Education Committee.
Additionally, response plans would be created for staff and resident assistants to use to identify, assess and respond to a student in crisis. There would be training on when to refer students to crisis hotlines and mental health screenings.
“We cannot underestimate the value of early action when responding to students in crisis,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37). “The right support—whether it be an early diagnosis or quickly accessible services—can save lives. This bill sends a clear message to every college student in New Jersey: you are not alone, and help is always available.”
Legislators pointed to a string of suicides on the campus of Rowan University in 2019 as cause for concern—and the need for expanded services for college students.
Under the legislation, mental health public awareness campaigns would be conducted on higher education campuses.
These events would provide students with information on depression and suicide, raise awareness for available mental health services and reduce the stigma associated with seeking help.
“Suicide is preventable. We can never fully erase the pain of the countless families who have lost their children to suicide, but we can do everything in our power to help those in crisis and spare families unimaginable loss,” said Jasey.