N.J. advances measure requiring counselors on call 24/7 for college students in distress

The New Jersey Senate recently approved a bill named for Madison Holleran

The New Jersey Senate recently approved a bill named for Madison Holleran

In New Jersey, college-aged young people have accounted for 72 percent of all youth suicides in recent years. The New Jersey Senate recently approved The Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act, aimed at helping college students in distress.

The legislation is named for Madison Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania when she took her own life in 2014.

Holleran, who was 19 when she died, was a graduate of Northern Highlands High School in Allendale, New Jersey, where she excelled in academics and sports. Her family has started a foundation in the name of the Penn track star to prevent suicides and to assist those in a crisis situation with phone numbers and resources.

If passed, the bill would require that all colleges in New Jersey have someone on staff to counsel students around the clock, seven days a week. Counselors could be available by phone. Their level of experience could vary.

“There’s no requirement to say exactly what they have to have. They don’t have to have a Ph.D., they can just be student psychologists, they have to have some program or regimen that they’re focused in, you know, willing to listen to students who are in distress,” said state Sen. Kevin O’Toole, sponsor of the measure.

He said a regular 9-5 counseling schedule doesn’t make sense for college students, who could have a crisis during the middle of the night. And he’s worried about the generation now entering college.

“The generation that we’re raising now, I think they’re under a lot of pressure,” said O’Toole, R-Essex. “I think they’re over-tested, overworked, over-calendared, and it takes a toll on them.”

He said he’s hopeful colleges could shift existing staff schedules to meet the potential new requirement.

The bill goes on to the Assembly next, where O’Toole is confident it will gain approval.

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