New Jersey May Require Depression Screenings For Students

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New Jersey May Require Depression Screenings For Students

By Beth Leipholtz 10/08/18

A new bill aims to address undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues in school-aged children. 

Image: 
kids raising their hands in a classroom

Some New Jersey lawmakers are taking a stand against undiagnosed depression in youth by drafting a bill that would require annual screenings. 

According to New Jersey 101.5, if the bill were to pass, students in New Jersey would have to be screened for depression about six times in the time leading up to high school graduation. 

The bill comes in the wake of a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, stating that young people should be screened for depression each year. If passed, it would require that public school students in grades 7 through 12 be screened once per year. 

"Tragically, far too few people that suffer from mental illness actually get diagnosed," Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), primary bill sponsor and chair of the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee, said at a recent hearing, according to 101.5. "For those who screen positive, information will be sent to the parents and the parents can get their child the care that they need."

The screening would consist of a two-question survey and could be given by a "qualified professional" at public schools. By the bill’s definition, this means a school psychologist, school nurse, school counselor, student assistance coordinator, school social worker or physician.

According to Conaway, parents would have the choice of opting out of the screening for their child, which current laws also allow for other types of physical health screenings. 

While the intent of the bill is understood, there is still some opposition, according to 101.5

Debbie Bradley, director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, tells 101.5 that the potential passing of the bill would impact understaffing at schools even more. As such, combining the screening with annual physicals is an idea that has been broached.

"Many of our members suggested that this system be integrated with the current annual physicals that many parents bring their students to," Bradley said.

Conaway reiterated the importance of the bill by citing a study that discovered the number of children and teenagers hospitalized for thoughts of suicide climbed more than 100% from 2008 to 2015. 

If passed, the bill would allow for confidential data collection. The data would be forwarded to the Department of Education and Department of Health, then studied for statewide trends.

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