TRENTON, N.J. – This year’s college experience looks a lot different – and it’s affecting students’ mental well-being. Addressing increased stress, anxiety and depression on campuses in New Jersey, the Assembly Higher Education Committee advanced a bill connecting students to available mental health services.
“The college life that many had imagined was put on hold or cancelled. Campus closures due to the coronavirus, restrictions on socializing and uncertainty about future careers are wreaking havoc on students’ mental health,” said Assemblywoman Aura Dunn, a prime sponsor of the legislation. “While we know that students are experiencing more mental health disturbances, we also know they are not reaching out for help when they are in crisis. We need to make sure they are aware of the services that are available and they have that lifeline that is there any time they need to talk to someone.”
Under the bill (A3007), higher education institutions in the state will be required to ensure access to campus-based mental health care programs and services and provide newly enrolled students with information on their location and availability starting in the 2021-2022 academic year. Additionally, 24-hour toll-free telephone hotlines must be advertised in dormitories, libraries and student centers.
“Providing information on mental health services in the beginning of the semester, when you are learning about how and where to access all the resources you need, reduces some of the stigma surrounding seeking out psychological help,” said Dunn. “Students will get information on everything from dental to mental. In order to prevent potential tragedies, we want to normalize mental health care so that they feel comfortable reaching out for help.”
Before the pandemic, Rowan University reported three suicides in just over two months in fall of 2019. Last October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported suicide had become the second leading cause of death among 10-to-24-year olds. In August 2020, the CDC released a report on the pandemic’s effect on mental health that identified a disproportionate number of 18-to-24-year olds, about one-quarter of those surveyed, had seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days.
“Coronavirus shutdowns and closures have prevented people from scheduling doctors’ appointments and put people into isolation, both of which carry consequences to one’s health and well-being,” explained Dunn. “Mental health cannot wait. It has to be convenient and easily accessible for the person in crisis and this bill will help meet this timely need.”