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Singleton, Ruiz Bill to Require Public Schools to Administer Depression Screenings Clears Committee

Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton and Senate Education Committee Chair M. Teresa Ruiz, which would require public schools to administer written screenings for depression for students in grades seven through 12, cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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

“According to the CDC, suicide among teens and young adults has tripled since 1940. Left undiagnosed and untreated, depression can lead to self-harm or even suicide.  Currently, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex).  “These statistics are unacceptable. If we are going to address teen suicide and ensure our children are receiving proper treatment, it starts with early diagnosis.”

The bill, S-2835, would require a board of education to ensure that students in grades seven through twelve receive a health screening for depression annually. The screening would be administered by the school physician or school nurse and would consist of a written self-report questionnaire to be selected by the Commissioner of Children and Families.

Under the bill, the Department of Education and the Department of Children and Families would jointly establish standards on the procedures to be implemented to conduct the screenings. The screenings would be required to be done in a manner that ensures the privacy of the student and the confidentiality of the results. The bill would require a board of education to notify the parent or guardian of a student whose screening for depression detects a suspected deviation from the recommended standard and to encourage the parent or guardian to share the results of the screening with the student’s primary care physician.

A student could be exempt from the depression screening upon written request of the student’s parent or guardian.

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 was released from committee by a vote of 9-3-1.