MAPLE SHADE, N.J. (CBS) — The state of mental health among teenagers is alarming officials in New Jersey. Leaders are now turning their attention to making sure teens have the resources they need to reach out for help.
As adults, it’s easy to reflect on our high school years as the glory days while forgetting the academic and social stress. Now in the digital age, multiply those peer pressures with the need most teens feel to maintain a cyber persona.
“That’s the biggest thing, is social media has kind of has taken control of all our lives,” Maple Shade High School senior Eleanor Oakley said.
Oakley has accomplished enough to earn a spot at Villanova University next fall but she says managing a robust school and social life took a toll.
“There was points where the stress got to be too much, where I realized I had to talk to somebody,” Oakley said.
Oakley is hardly alone. Rates of anxiety, depression and even suicide among children and teens have been increasing for years, creating a mental health crisis some schools are struggling to address.
“For far too long, we as a society have been too passive on this issue,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said.
On Tuesday, Murphy came to Maple Shade to announce two new initiatives to tackle the state’s youth mental health crisis.
First, the state will start training at least one professional from every K-12 school and colleges to become a “mental health first aid trainer.” Their job, in turn, will be to train others at the school on identifying and addressing mental health issues.
Secondly, the state is forming an inter-agency working group to create guidelines for next school year on mental health strategies.
“Our hope is that through this effort, more students with emerging mental health or substance use issues will be identified and referred for the appropriate supports,” Murphy said.
“It happens to everybody. Everyone gets stressed out like that so it’s important to reach out and get help from people when you need it,” Oakley said.
The governor says the group working to develop strategies for next school year could begin their work as early as next week.