With many New Jersey children still struggling with a variety of issues because of the COVID pandemic, anxiety over school violence and other problems a plan is moving forward to make it easier for them to get psychological help.

New Jersey lawmakers could soon give final approval to a measure that would require school districts that have a school psychologist to offer virtual telehealth counseling sessions to students as well as in-person counseling.

According to the prime sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Joe Lagana, D-Bergen, this would expand access to mental health services for students, while also increasing the number of counseling sessions a school psychologist could participate in.

Reaching more students

“This is incredibly important because it gives access where it would normally not be present, the more students we can reach, the better off we are,” he said. “We are now just starting to scratch the surface of what the pandemic has done to school age children.”

Lagana said he has three children and all of them have been affected by the disruptions and fears surrounding COVID, and this has happened at a time when student anxiety has just generally increased.

Teenage Girl Being Bullied By Text Message
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Depression on the rise

“We’re starting to see signs of depression now in younger students,” he said. “We’ve seen the unfortunate rise of suicide in children younger than even 10 years old.”

He said on top of this, “when you throw social media into it it’s kind of this pressure cooker that’s about to explode.”

He noted even before the pandemic, student anxiety was on the rise and there has been an ongoing shortage of mental health professionals in New Jersey for years.

Lagana said we need to destigmatize mental health and make sure students are “learning about anxiety, about depression, about what the signs are, letting them know it’s okay to seek help, to ask questions.”

The State Senate has unanimously passed the measure, and it is now being considered by the Assembly Education committee.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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