Scroll Top

Senate Passes Comprehensive Legislation to Expand Access to Mental Health Services


TRENTON – The Senate today passed legislation that would require the Department of Human Services to establish a comprehensive Statewide behavioral health crisis system of care, including implementation of a new 9-8-8 behavioral health crisis hotline and the establishment of mobile crisis response teams available to individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis.


The bill, S-311, sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale and Senator Vin Gopal, comes in response to several actions taken at the federal level to establish a new 9-8-8 national suicide prevention hotline, and falls in line with other preventative measures being taken in other states. The new three-digit helpline will replace the longer National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) hotline currently in use.


“Too often, our neighbors, family and friends who may be in crisis are forced to bear their anguish silently, and alone. By joining the nationwide effort to prevent suicide and other negative behavioral health outcomes, our state will be able to offer those suffering most a literal life line, and immediate help by dialing the 9-8-8 crisis center,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex).


The legislation provides that, no later than six months after the effective date of the bill, the Commissioner of Human Services will be required to set up designated hotline centers that would have the authority to deploy mobile crisis response teams and refer callers to crisis stabilization services, as needed, according to guidelines and best practices established by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


The system must assure that crisis counselors are in place to respond to calls for help 24 hours per day, seven days per week.


A hotline center would also meet the requirements set forth by NSPL for serving high risk and specialized populations as identified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


“Many New Jerseyans who struggle with mental illness feel they have nowhere to turn. These include our military veterans, and more and more, our young people. Establishment of this 9-8-8 crisis service can be a life-saver not only for people considering taking their own life, but for those who might otherwise find themselves in a public crisis or difficulty that could turn into a tragic encounter with police,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “This law is a positive step forward in seeing that those in behavioral health crisis can get the help they need quickly and safely.”


In October, 2020, President Trump signed the bipartisan National Suicide Designation Act of 2020 into law. That law established 9-8-8 as a universal number for mental health crises and suicide prevention.


The need for 9-8-8 and a continuum of crisis services is greater than ever. According to data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in 2020, more than one in ten adults in the U.S. had seriously considered suicide in the 30 days prior to the survey and four in ten adults experienced a behavioral health condition, like anxiety or depression.


“Just as the 9-1-1 emergency line has emerged as an effective first response, and been ingrained in our societal memory, so too the 9-8-8 system will offer a similar immediate response in times of behavioral health crisis,” noted Senator Vitale.


The Senate released the bill by a vote of 38-0.