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New Jersey State Legislature: Give Mental Health Rights to Teens

This petition had 3,795 supporters

American adolescents are suffering from extremely high rates of emotional, behavioral, and substance abuse disorders. The vast majority of these teens - especially those who are suffering the most - are not seeking professional help. Granting consent and confidentiality rights to our New Jersey teens for outpatient mental health treatment is one way to remove known barriers and encourage our adolescents to seek the help they desperately need.

                                                     The Facts

In the United States:

       ·         Half of teens have had a mental illness in their lifetime [1]

       ·         1 in 9 teens suffers from a substance abuse disorder [1]

       ·         1 in 7 suffers from a mood disorder [1]

       ·         1 in 5 suffers from a behavior disorder [1]

       ·         1 in 3 suffers from an anxiety disorder [1]

       ·         1 in 3 suffers from ongoing depressive symptoms that cause significant distress but may not meet diagnostic criteria[2]

       ·         40% of teens with one class of disorder meet criteria for at least one other class of disorder (40% comorbidity rate). [1]

*Nearly ¼ of all cases qualify as “severe” disorders, which cause extreme impairment and severe distress in daily functioning

       ·         This includes 30% of PTSD, 55% of generalized anxiety, 75% of  depression, 90% of bipolar, and 100% of panic disorder and agoraphobia cases. [1]

*Despite extremely high prevalence, mental illness in teens is still thought to be underdiagnosed. [3]

                                                  The Dangers

*Mental illness in teens can negatively impact school performance, social and familial relationships, and self-image; damage to these areas of an adolescent’s world can perpetuate the symptoms of mental illness. [2]

*Mental illness in adolescence is a strong predictor of mental illness in adulthood. [1]

*Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in adolescents [4]

       ·         Every year, 17% of teens seriously consider attempting suicide, 13% have a suicide plan, 8.4% attempt suicide, and 2.3% of those attempts result in serious injury [2]

                                                   Getting Help

*Just a little over half of teens experiencing significant distress reach out for help. Help is most commonly sought from friends. Only 13% of teens in distress that seek help seek it from mental health professionals. [5]

*Seeking help from friends can be detrimental; other teens (especially those also at risk) will keep a friend’s suicidal thoughts a secret 75% of the time, are likely to support using drugs and alcohol as coping skills, and will recommend handling one’s own problems and emotions rather than confiding in a parent or counselor.  [2][4]

*50% of teens with depression and suicidal thoughts/behaviors are not receiving mental health treatment. The more frequent and severe the suicidal thoughts/behaviors are, the less likely the teen is to seek help. [2]

                                We Must Help Teens Help Themselves!

*In the State of New Jersey, teens are not granted the right to consent to outpatient mental health treatment.

       ·         More teens in distress – and teens in more severe distress – seek professional help when parental consent and notification laws are removed. [6]

       ·         Mental health problems often involve topics that teens feel are sensitive, shameful, or forbidden (sex, substances, partying, dating, cheating, homosexuality, etc.) Teens may fear that parents will be disappointed in them for their actions, their emotions, or their inability to handle things independently. Many teens suffer rather than confide in their parents. [5]

       ·         Granting consent rights can help reframe seeking help as a strong, independent, autonomous decision, rather than a weakness. [7]

*Without consent rights, confidentiality rights are not guaranteed.

       ·         Confidentiality is the foundation of a trusting, effective, and therapeutic relationship between mental health professional and client. Confidentiality protection will not only encourage teens to seek help, but increase the likelihood that they will continue to participate in treatment. [7]

*Teens already have these legal protections for prenatal care, HIV/AIDs/ STI testing/treatment, and drug and alcohol treatment. We must extend these rights to include mental health treatment!



Note from the writer: Social worker and mother

 This petition may evoke mixed emotions from those of you with children. Of course, we all hope that our kids will be able to come to us with anything and everything they are facing. Unfortunately, research shows that this simply is not the case in most families. And the more your child is suffering, the less likely he or she is to tell you about it. The fact is, our children need help far more desperately than we need or want to know what is going on in their lives. As a professional in the field, I can assure you that, in most situations, mental health practitioners will continuously encourage your child to involve you in the therapeutic process. Family participation is widely accepted as ethical, best practice, but it must be the teen’s choice to be effective. My daughter needs to know that she has someone she can seek out and trust in desperate times. If that person is not going to be me, I will feel safest knowing that it is a mental health professional. Please sign this petition if you agree with me. Thank you.




 [1] Merikangas, K., He, J., Burstein, M., Swanson, S., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., Benjet, C., Georgiades, K. & Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in US adolescents: Results from the national comorbidity study-adolescent supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(10), 980–989. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017

 [2] Husky, M., McGuire, L., Flynn, L., Chrostowski, C., Olfson, M. (2009). Correlates of help-seeking behavior among at-risk adolescents. Child Psychiatry and Human Development,40, 15-24. doi: 10.1007/s10578-008-0107-8

 [3]Austin, V. & Sciarra, D. (2010). Chapter 8: "Depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, and suicide prevention in school-age children and youth." Children and Adolescents with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Boston, MA.: Merrill.

 [4] Dougan, B., Klingbeil, D. & Meller, S. (2013). The impact of universal suicide-prevention programs on the help-seeking attitudes and behaviors of youth. Crisis, 34 (2), 82-97. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000178

 [5] Boldero, J., & Fallon, B. (1995). Adolescent help-seeking: What do they get help for and from   whom? Journal of Adolescence, 18, 193-209.

 [6] Meehan, T., Hansen, H & Klein, W. (1997). The impact of parental consent on the HIV testing of minors. American Journal of Public Health, 87 (8), 1338-1345. Retrieved from〈=en

 [7] Weisleder, P. (2004). The right of minors to confidentiality and informed consent. Journal of Child Neurology, 19 (2), 145-148. Retrieved from


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