Bill requiring mental health education in schools clears Assembly panel

TRENTON, NJ — On June 10, the Assembly Education Committee cleared legislation that would integrate mental health education into health and physical education classes for all K-12 students in the state.

“It’s incredibly important that students understand the many dimensions of health, from exercise to mental health and wellness,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer, a prime sponsor of the bill who represents parts of Bergen and Passaic counties. “Educating children about these issues from a young age will help them gain a deeper understanding of how to care for their mental health as they get older.”

The bill, A-4446/4592, sponsored by Schaer and Assembly Democrats John McKeon, Joann Downey, Raj Mukherji and Daniel Benson, would require health education programs in New Jersey schools to include age-appropriate instruction on mental health, including information on substance abuse.

“One in five children ages 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness in their lives,” said McKeon, who represents parts of Essex and Morris counties. “In any given classroom, there’s bound to be students living with a mental health issue, from ADHD to depression to anxiety. Some may not have been diagnosed or treated. Through lessons on mental health, we may help some youth feel less alone or be encouraged to seek the help they need.”

Under the measure, the state Board of Education would review and update the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. In its review, the board would consult with mental health experts including, but not limited to, representatives from the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services. In consultation with experts, the curriculum would be updated to incorporate mental health instruction for students K-12.

The bill would take effect immediately and first apply to the 2020-2021 school year. It now goes to the Assembly speaker for further consideration.