NJAMHAA Testifies at NJ Senate Education Committee Hearing on Teen Mental Health

March 6, 2023

On March 2, 2023, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee held a hearing on student and teen mental health in response to much commentary on the issue following the highly publicized death by suicide last month of 14-year-old Adriana Kuch and a rise in teen suicide rates.

Lawmakers invited superintendents, educators, and experts to share their insights on how to address these issues. NJAMHAA Member Susan Tellone, RN, BSN, MSN, CSN, Clinical Director, Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, shared verbal testimony at the hearing saying, "Our students are in crisis, they need us, and the time is now," as quoted on njspotlightnews.com. "I've never seen it like this before. Our children are struggling at levels that are unbelievable," she stated.

Senior Health Policy Analyst for NJAMHAA, Mary Abrams, was highlighted in today's publication of The Star Ledger saying that the groups she and NJAMHAA work with have a 30% vacancy rate for psychiatrists, social workers, residential care workers, and others.

NJAMHAA submitted written testimony to the Senate Education Committee, saying, in part, "The national suicide epidemic began well before the pandemic struck, and teen suicide was part of that rise . . . There are layers of the causes for the rise in teen suicide - long-standing, ever-present impacts teens faced pre-pandemic and those of the pandemic, with the components of each impacting the other." The testimony continued, "The list of what is contributing to teen anxiety, depression and for too many, suicide goes on. Homophobia, sexual assault, bullying, domestic violence, poverty - those have always permeated society with great impact on young lives. Add a pandemic that exacerbated all the difficulties anyone might endure. Simultaneously, the Internet and social media bring more universal issues - political tensions, climate disasters, bigoted acts that range from legislation threatening LGBTQ individuals to deadly encounters for that group, lethal police encounters, racism, wars, mass shootings and more right to the palm of a teen's hand. Every day. All day. And, of course, some online bullying often mixed in."

"The Legislature can ensure supports for the workforce and School Based Youth Services Programs in the current budget cycle. Ensuring families are aware of PerformCare and CSOC [Children's System of Care] as well as available social services is also something that can also be readily accomplished by requiring schools to distribute appropriate information. Similarly, Mental Health First Aid training and a statewide audit, though they will take longer to implement and complete, are solutions the Legislature can immediately act on."

Click here to access the full testimony submitted by NJAMHAA.

Click here to read more on this story, and click here to access a recording of the full Senate session with all oral testimony.

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