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Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, according to Active Minds, a nonprofit group that raises awareness about student mental health issues. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State notes that the most common mental health diagnoses for college students are anxiety and depression, both risks factors leading to greater probability of suicidal behavior. Yet college campuses vary greatly in their approach to suicide prevention, even the prestigious Ivy League schools. The most comprehensive, strategic and well planned suicide prevention programs implement policies and procedures to promote and protect the emotional health of the students.
The most recent data available indicates that in New Jersey, 72 percent of youth suicides were committed by college-age young adults. In June 2016, the New Jersey Assembly Higher Education committee took an important step towards addressing the college campus suicide crisis by voting 5-0 to advance the Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act. The bill requires New Jersey high education institutions to have personnel focused on suicide prevention and trained in mental health issues available 24/7 either on campus or by phone. The Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act was named for the athlete Madison Holleran, a soccer and track player at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, NJ. Holleran was a freshman who committed suicide in January 2014 while a attending the University of Pennsylvania. Soon after her death the University of Pennsylvania set out to examine mental health on campus by forming a task force. The task force report encouraged expanding counseling center hours, stepped up outreach efforts and a designated phone line for easily accessible resources.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Kevin O’Toole, said that a regular 9-5 counseling schedule doesn’t make sense for college students, who could have a crisis during the middle of the night. Under O’Toole’s bill, “Not only will these professionals be on call to help students in need, they will be able to work with faculty and staff so they can recognize the warning signs associate with student suicide.”
It is time for other states to follow New Jersey’s lead.
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