Fighting for Solutions to the Teen Suicide Crisis
May 3, 2023
Behavioral health is an issue that affects the future of our families across the state. Regardless of what political party you support, where you call home, where you go to school, or where you work, the stresses of the world around us are impacting us all. We need to join together as a community to help our neighbors and future generations before it is too late.
According to recent CDC data, in 2021, nearly 3 in 5 (57%) of U.S. young women felt persistently sad or hopeless. The report also found that a concerning 1 in 5 (22%) LGBTQ+ students attempted suicide in the past year. Senator Gopal (D-Long Branch) wrote a recent column about the suicide crisis, pointing out that mental health emergency room visits by young people have risen 49% since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, I attended an event hosted by the Society For The Prevention Of Teen Suicide and listened to the speech given by their Executive Director, Dawn Dougherty, who spoke about the need to educate our communities, families, caregivers, and other adults on the warning signs of (and techniques to help with) the growing suicide epidemic. Her words reminded me of why I first jumped into the political arena in 2005. I needed to do something to help overcome the discrimination I, along with other members of the LGBT community experienced, which resulted in men and women of all ages feeling alone and attacked with no path forward for help. This path into activism escalated in 2007, after reading a case involving the bullying of a student in a local school district. It became clear to me that something needed to be done to curb bullying in schools. That began a multi-year campaign which resulted in the bipartisan passage of the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights – a law to address bullying, harassment, and intimidation in schools to ensure every child had an opportunity to receive help if they felt bullied at school, legislation that I am honored to have co-authored. But, we still have more to do.
The amount of stress teenagers face has increased significantly over the years due to heightened academic and social demands. This has been further complicated by the heightened feelings of isolation and depression the last few years have brought them at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not hard to imagine why a survey of high school students found that 20% had seriously considered attempting suicide within the last year. These numbers highlight that suicide is a crisis in need of attention and resources to support our students, families, teachers, coaches, and other adults who can make a difference in the life of a teen or any family facing mental health issues. Yet, as Senator Gopal noted in his recent article, the current caseload per school counselor is double the average at 500 students per counselor, indicating the existing resources are insufficient. This must change.
Senator Gopal has secured $25 Million for Monmouth County which now allows the county to provide early intervention programs, expansion of the School-Linked Services, and funding for the suicide crisis hotline. This is a great start to getting our families and communities the help they need, but it is time we take further steps to address this. I am running for Assembly because I know we need to find solutions, not temporary measures, to fix this crisis. It requires experience with making big decisions and the understanding that we must be looking out for everyone. My past work as a lawyer means I know how the system works, and how to ensure bills with substance pass. My work on the anti-bullying legislation proves I have experience working with both Democrats and Republicans to get critical work done. It is only through working together that countless lives will be saved.