Record-high rates of suicide, depression and poor mental health indicators among teens should be met with increased funding for in-school services, not an outsourced experiment, say Assemblywomen Kim Eulner and Marilyn Piperno.
The Monmouth County lawmakers are specifically criticizing Gov. Phil Murphy’s $43 million proposal to launch the New Jersey Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) network, which will deliver school mental health support from 15 regional hubs. The new plan, embraced by Democrats including Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Vin Gopal, has school districts and mental health advocates worried it won’t meet the needs of students in crisis.
“New Jersey has nearly 600 school districts in the state – there is no way 15 regional hubs will be able to effectively provide enough support to address the immediate mental health needs of students. Now is not the time to experiment with a new model when we know what works – in-school, easily accessible and sustainable services,” Eulner (R-Monmouth) said. “New Jersey shouldn’t outsource mental health help while high school students are experiencing depression and suicide at alarming rates.”
According to a recent report by the CDC, teen suicide, persistent sadness, and hopelessness among high school students are increasing. Rates are at – or close to – the highest they have ever been. In 2021, 42% of high school students felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities and 22% seriously considered attempting suicide.
“Governor Murphy, Sen. Gopal and Democrats must heed the warning: Without more mental health funding for in-school services, young lives will be lost,” Piperno (R-Monmouth) said. “New Jersey has a mental health provider shortage and a backlog of people are waiting for appointments. But Democrats, who are responsible for the unemployment mess and MVC debacle, want us to trust that they can get services to students through some gimmicky government acronym? Forget it. The stakes are too high.”
Increases in isolation, unemployment, food insecurity, lockdowns, drug and alcohol use and domestic violence have created a mental health crisis among teens nationally and statewide, according to testimony at a Senate committee hearing. Health care professionals reported seeing younger, more acute patients and struggling to find in-patient and outpatient services.
“Students already feel a connection to their schools and schools can more easily reach struggling students, so that is where New Jersey should invest funding to increase services,” Eulner and Piperno said. “We are calling on the administration to stop slashing school aid and outsourcing mental health services, and prioritize in-school support while fully funding New Jersey’s school districts.”
Under Murphy’s 2024 spending plan, 150 school districts are losing state aid despite an increase of $832 million for school funding in the budget. That increase will be divided among just 15% of the state’s 577 school districts.