Implement a Mental Health Screening Tool for Students
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Eye exams, scoliosis screenings, immunizations, and annual physicals are all mandatory to attend public schools under the New Jersey Department of Health. Physical health is clearly prioritized in New Jersey’s education systems, however one vital element of overall health is sorely overlooked: mental health. A school guidance counselor's door is always open for students to talk, but taking the first step in seeking assistance is often the hardest- especially for today’s youth. Initiating the conversation and stating a need for mental health help is intimidating, especially to the fragile, underdeveloped teenage psyche. Experts say fifty percent of all lifetime mental health illness begins at age 14 and seventy-five percent of conditions begin by age 24. Just under 5,000 adolescents ages 15 to 24 commit suicide a year, and specifically, 596 adolescents ages 15 to 24 committed suicide in New Jersey alone in 2007. The suicide rate amongst teens has nearly tripled since 1960. To make matters worse, the average time between the onset of symptoms and intervention is eight to ten years! It’s clear there’s no more repressing the brutality of mental illness, and it’s time to take action.
Surely a school counselor can monitor students’ grades or search for the student sitting alone at lunch, but even still there are adolescents committing suicide who would have never been suspected of a mental health issue. Why? Because many teens are too afraid to take that first step to and ask for help because of the stigma around receiving mental health care. Unfortunately, in the mind of too many adolescents, it is more important to blend in and wish away depressive thoughts than their ability muster up the courage and ask for help. That’s why, the New Jersey Department of health must develop a system to annually screen public high school students for mental health disorders and diseases.
Mental health screenings have already been instated to diagnose postpartum depression. Through a series of questions mothers rate their emotions and thoughts while pregnant and then again after birth on a numerical scale. Based on their responses, medical professionals are able to easily give a diagnosis and treat the women who suffer from postpartum depression. Using a similar system, schools need to conduct mental health screenings to foresee mental health issues and even prevent suicide in teens that are too intimidated to speak up on their own.
It’s time we protect the mental health of New Jersey’s students and minimize the time between symptom onset and treatment. Please sign this petition to convince the New Jersey State Board of Education to implement a mental health screening system in public high schools to improve the mental health of students and lower teen suicide rates across the state of New Jersey.
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