In New Jersey, the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy looks set to make youth mental health a priority, with new training for school personnel and a Department of Education-led effort to develop resources for those in need.
“Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, but as a society, we are often unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms of mental illness,” Murphy said. “With improved training for school and higher education personnel and better opportunities for school and provider connections, we can better address and support the mental health needs of our young people. We are committed to ensuring that our residents have access to the resources they need to thrive and succeed in life.”
One in five Americans suffers from mental illness, the state notes, leading to an environment where suicide remains the second-leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, and more than one in four students report ongoing feelings of hopelessness and sadness.
In response, New Jersey will invest $6 million into Mental Health First Aid Training for every public school district, charter or renaissance school, approved private schools for students with disabilities and higher education institutions, in partnership with the National Council of Behavioral Health. For the training, schools will be able to send at least one staff member to become a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor. Such training will focus on risk factors and warning signs, as well as connecting students with the appropriate resources and support from community behavioral health providers.
At the same time, the Department of Education will create a Mental Health Working Group of government officials, advocates, mental health providers, and school practitioners to support districts’ mental health needs through the development of various resources and resource sharing.
“This train-the-trainer model will give the kindergarten through 12 school community and institutions of higher education the powerful tools they need to raise awareness about what mental health is and how to recognize when someone is struggling with mental health and substance use disorders,” said Debra Wentz, president and CEO of New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. “By learning about these illnesses and that they are treatable, school officials and those they in turn train in this model will more openly talk about mental health and substance use disorders, breaking down the barrier of stigma that has prevented children and youth from revealing their thoughts and feelings and getting help early. Exponentially, Mental Health First Aid will create a safe space to deal with these illnesses that are no different than other illnesses that children and youth experience.”