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Bergen County, NJ: Official wants routine "mental health check-ups" for students

Dec 24, 2019, North Valley Press, Westwood, NJ: School Safety Task Force May Suggest Mental Health Screenings BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.—If a student’s mental health was considered right along with physical health, it would make a whole lot of sense. That’s one goal worth striving for, said Freeholder Mary Amoroso, chair of the county Prosecutor’s Office Safe Schools Task Force committee on legislation and policy. That committee has focused efforts on student mental and emotional health, as well as legislative and funding options, to enhance school safety and security over the last nine months. Maybe one day, Amoroso said, mental health check-ups will be as routine as the medical check-ups required for students to participate in sports—although many concerns remain to be worked out regarding privacy and confidentiality of such check-ups, she added. Moreover, said Amoroso, more available mental health check-ups would be one more tool to be proactive and identify areas of mental health concern or warning signs early on that could be addressed before a larger problem develops…. “I really think that since [students] get physicals done for playing sports, I wish that there were some way for schools to offer mental health check-ups” for students experiencing mental stress, she said. … A psychologist on call One likely recommendation from the Safe Schools Task Force January 2020 report is a call for school psychologists and full-time assessment care teams in every school, said Amie DelSordo, task force mental health committee chair. Assessment Care Teams include a principal or vice principal, mental health professional and school safety personnel. Such a team can make informed decisions about students identified as possible threats to themselves or others, and should be mandatory, said the task force mental health committee. Mental-health training has taken place for educators over the last year to identify “warning signs” and the committee plans to expand its training to students and parents in 2020, said DelSordo. DelSordo said 1,337 school staff and 63 schools have received mental health training in 2019 to help them identify possible signs of trouble and how to connect at-risk students with resources. Possible funding next year may come from about $300 million dedicated to school security in a 2018 Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act, which was approved by voters, said Amoroso. … Amoroso said a new law requiring mental health education in grades K-12 beginning in September 2020 statewide was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in August. … “The requirements are now in place to ensure mental health [concerns] are incorporated,” said Amoroso. She noted the state education department will review and update learning standards to include an age-appropriate mental health curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year…. ‘Early intervention’ In late 2018, the state School Boards’ Association—alarmed at the increasing number of school shootings nationwide and rising suicide rate—formed a task force to “study the impact of the effective delivery of mental health services and early intervention strategies on student health and wellness, school climate, and school security.” … “The serious emotional trouble that students are experiencing evidences itself in disturbing ways. Students are self-mutilating or cutting themselves at a higher rate than ever before. According to Mental Health America, approximately 15% of teens are reporting some form of self-injury. For students between the ages of 13 and 18, 20% live with a mental health disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI),” notes the report…. Almost 300 suicides in 3 years The report noted among youth ages 8 to 15 with diagnosed mental illnesses, approximately half do not receive mental health services. In addition, the state Department of Children and Families reports that 2,731 young people, ages 10-24, were treated in hospital emergency rooms for attempted suicide or self-inflicted injuries in 2013 through 2015; in the same age group, 283 suicides occurred. …


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