On August 1, 2016, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed the Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act, which requires institutions of higher education to ensure that mental health counselors are available to students 24 hours a day. With this bill’s passage, New Jersey joins a growing number of states that are increasing required student resources and staff training in the area of suicide prevention.
The New Jersey legislation (Senate Bill 2808) was passed in response to the suicide of a former New Jersey high school student and freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. Under the provisions of the bill, licensed health care professionals (who must have training and experience in mental health issues) must be available to students around the clock and will focus on reducing student suicides and attempted suicides. These professionals will also work with faculty and staff in order to recognize the warning signs and risk factors associated with student suicide. No later than 15 days following the beginning of each semester, an institution must share the location and contact information of these health care professionals with each student via email. New Jersey’s requirements take effect on October 30, 2016 -- 90 days after the enactment of the bill.
In addition, a second bill currently under consideration (the Proper Reporting Act) would require New Jersey institutions to publically provide numbers of both completed suicides and suicide attempts. An institution would be required to update the information annually and post the data on its website. The stated goal of publishing this information is to “raise awareness” of the issue of youth suicide.
Several other states have enacted similar measures to those passed in New Jersey. Last year, Ohio passed a bill requiring public institutions of higher education to implement policies to advise students and staff of available suicide prevention programs. West Virginia implemented “Jamie’s Law,” requiring administrators to inform students of support services for students in crisis. All incoming students at Texas colleges and universities must now watch a video about mental health resources and suicide prevention. Similar suicide prevention measures are also currently pending in the Missouri legislature.
Taking prevention measures a step further, Illinois has created a mechanism for parents of college students to view their child’s personal mental health medical records if the student poses a threat to him or herself. New students are given the affirmative option to authorize (or decline to authorize) the disclosure of this information to their parents or guardians.