Singleton, Ruiz Bill Requiring Depression Screenings in Schools Clears Committee

Trenton – Legislation, which would require public schools to administer written screenings for depression for students in grades seven through twelve, cleared the Senate Education Committee today. The bill was sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton and Senate Education Committee Chair M. Teresa Ruiz.

“We cannot wait another moment to address the problem of adolescent and teen depression,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “Youth depression is on the rise and is only accelerating in the time of COVID-19. This is not just a mental health problem – it is a public health problem. This legislation provides for annual school based mental health screenings and is a preemptive measure against this debilitating illness. It would allow us to identify the symptoms of depression in our students before it’s too late or it turns into a life-long cycle.”

“Prior to the pandemic, teenage depression was already a prevalent issue, with suicide being the third leading cause of death for youth ages ten to 24,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Months of isolation has only exacerbated the issue and further strained young adult’s social and emotional wellbeing. Now, as students return to school, it is important we are doing all that we can to diagnose mental health issues and help connect students with the treatment that they need.”

The bill would require a board of education to ensure that students in grades seven through twelve receive a health screening for depression annually. The screening is to be proctored and conducted electronically via a computer, and is to utilize a screening tool that has been validated to screen depression in adolescents, as determined by the Commissioners of Education and Children and Families.

According to the CDC, 2.8 million young people between the ages of 12-17 experience at least one major depressive episode each year.  Approximately 10-15% of teenagers exhibit at least one symptom of depression at any time, and about 5% of teenagers suffer from major depression at any time.  Teenage depression has led to a 70% increase in suicides between 2006 and 2016.

The bill, S-2259, was released from committee by a vote of 3-1-1.