According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "each year, approximately 157,000 young people receive medical care for self-inflicted injures at emergency departments across the United States." In fact, suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in this country - the 2nd leading cause of death on college campuses. It accounts for more deaths among college students than all medical illness combined and is the 3rd leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 to 24. Suicide is a serious public health problem that causes pain, suffering, and loss to individuals, families, and communities nationwide.
On August 1, 2016, New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie signed into law a suicide prevention bill focusing primarily on college students. The "Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act" was inspired by a New Jersey high school track star and Ivy League college student who took her own life in January 2014. The Act aims to reduce the number of student suicides and attempted suicides in higher education institutions. In the words of Assemblymen Dave Russo, " [c]ollege is a significant adjustment both socially and academically. We cannot judge from outward appearances those students who are comping well with the stress of college life and those who are depressed and contemplating suicide. Ensuring that mental health resources are readily available to students on campus is critical."
The Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act requires an institution of higher education to have individuals with training and experience in mental health available on campus or remotely by telephone, or other means for students, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to assist students in crises. The names and contact information of these individuals must be sent to each student via electronic mail, no later than (15) days following the beginning of each semester. It also requires them to work with faculty and staff on ways to recognize the warning signs and risk factors associated with student suicide. The companion bill, the "Madison Holleran Proper Reporting Act," requires schools to list on their website information concerning the total number of students enrolled in the institution who committed suicide or attempted suicide in the prior academic year. They are also required to update that information annually.
New Jersey now recognizes that any suicide or suicide attempt is one too many. Acts of suicide, "successful" or not, cause emotional suffering in families and communities and create economic costs associated with medical care and lost productivity. The new law is a good start in requiring effective suicide prevention strategies. Hopefully, our political leaders will soon expand the law to include high schools, where bullying, peer pressure and isolation can be at their worst. Sandra Barsoum is an Associate Attorney with Kates Nussman Rapone Ellis & Farhi, LLP and is the author of this blog. One of her areas of practice is working with Mike Farhi in protecting children in bullying and family law cases.