TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Linda Greenstein that would require institutions of higher education to provide students with access to mental health care programs and services was approved today by the Senate Higher Education Committee.
The bill, S-1781, would require public and independent colleges and universities to provide access to campus-based mental health care programs and services and information to newly-enrolled students about the location and availability of those programs and services beginning with the 2016-2017 academic year. Such services would include access to a 24-hour telephone hotline for students seeking counseling for depression, anxiety, stress, or other psychological or emotional tension, trauma, or disorder.
“Students are faced with tremendous social and academic pressures throughout their college careers, not to mention the emotional and physical stresses that come with campus life,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Our goal is to prevent instances where students who need help with mental health issues fall through the cracks, because of a lack of available services or continuity in care, and later pose a serious threat and danger to themselves as well as others in the community.”
A greater nationwide effort to improve behavioral intervention initiatives on college campuses across the country was prompted by the tragic mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, which claimed the lives of 32 students and faculty and injured 17 others. While some institutions already had mental health services in place, the findings of the Virginia Tech Review Panel’s report on the events leading up to the tragedy showed great need for improvement.
Many campuses began to establish Behavioral Intervention Teams to identify and intervene with students displaying disturbing behavior or mental health issues. Such teams are now becoming a standard of care at universities across the country as a mechanism for campus constituencies to share and act on information about students of concern.
“We must give our best effort in addressing mental health care among students to prevent history from repeating itself. By tending to the mental and emotional health of our students, we can avoid potentially dangerous and tragic events from happening in New Jersey,” said Senator Greenstein. “While many of our state’s higher education institutions are already taking steps to provide necessary mental health services to their students, this bill ensures a comprehensive approach is taken to enhance student safety and overall health and success.”
Under the bill, hotline operators would be required to have experience in working with psychological traumas and training in counseling services, and would be tasked with identifying callers who should be referred to additional counseling services and providing such referrals. The bill would also require that the number for the hotline be posted in each dormitory, library, student center, and any other area on campus deemed appropriate by the institution.
“The bill is a work in progress, and I look forward to engaging in meaningful conversations with leaders from New Jersey’s colleges and universities and mental health care professionals to provide appropriate programs and services for our students,” added Senator Greenstein.
The bill was approved by the Senate Higher Education Committee with a vote of 4-0 and now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.