Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way signed a bill Thursday requiring college faculty, staff, and residential assistants to be trained to spot signs of depression. (Rich Hundley III/Governor’s Office)
Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way signed a bill Thursday that will require colleges to train faculty, staff, and residential assistants to spot signs of depression in students and take up other measures to prevent student suicides.
The new law will require annual training for educators, college staff, and residential assistants, expanding state law that requires colleges to have mental health professionals available for students.
“We all know how demanding college is nowadays. The stress many students experience can exacerbate mental health challenges that they may already be facing. Thus, this law will truly go a long way. To help save lives, secure futures, and spare more families unthinkable tragedies,” Way said at a bill signing at Kean University.
Way is acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy is overseas.
Suicide is a leading cause of death among college-age Americans, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020 found a quarter of adults between 18 and 24 had seriously considered killing themselves in the past month.
Rates of youth suicide increased during the pandemic, the National Institute of Mental Health found in May.
“While the pandemic certainly exacerbated these issues, particularly among the most marginalized student populations, it did not create the mental health challenges that higher education faces,” said Higher Education Secretary Brian Bridges. “These are long-standing issues we are now more willing to confront, and that’s why we must act.”
The bill signed Thursday will also require schools to take steps to limit students’ access to places and things that could enable suicide, including unsecured building roofs and hazardous chemicals used in some labs.
It will further require colleges and universities to hold annual mental health awareness campaigns meant to educate students about depression, suicide, and the mental health services available on campus.
Thursday’s signing was a victory for advocates in the space, including Sean and Pauline Quinn, who advocated for reforms after their daughter died by suicide while attending the Stevens Institute of Technology.
“Maybe we make a difference, and maybe the next Aileen who’s thinking about it ends up being that Nobel prize winner who cures cancer and frankly just makes the next person’s life better,” said Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), the bill’s prime Senate sponsor. “And that’s what today is: Today is about a bill that hopefully makes the next person’s life better.”
The bill’s provisions will go into effect in the fall of 2024.
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