Editorial: Minors in N.J. should be able to access mental health treatment confidentiall

Trenton Times Editorial

The teenage members of the Keystone Club at the Boys and Girls Club of Jersey City gather regularly with the mission of leadership development through academics, career preparation and community involvement.

As part of that mission, the group has taken on the cause of teen suicide prevention and the state Legislature has wisely followed its lead.

The state Assembly passed last week, by a vote of 67-3 with one abstention, what's being calledthe "Boys & Girls Clubs Keystone Law." The bill would allow minors to receive mental health treatment confidentially and without approval of an adult.

"Research has shown that one of the greatest barriers to mental health treatment for teens is stigma," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the bill's sponsors.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds in New Jersey. Nationally, 4,600 people in that age group take their lives each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A New Jersey Youth Health Survey conducted in 2013 found that 14 percent of those surveyed had considered suicide, 12 percent had made a suicide plan and 10 percent attempted suicide at least once.

Removing the barriers for teens to get the help they need is another step in the process of preventing mental health issues from claiming lives and of ending the stigma.

New Jersey already allows minors to seek treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault and drug and alcohol abuse on their own, and the associated costs are dealt with on a sliding scale.

Behavioral health treatment should be added to the list. Sixteen other states already have similar laws.

In addition to providing minors access to confidential treatment, the bill would require the state to distribute information about mental health options for teens via pamphlets and on the Department of Children and Families website.

"This is a mind-blowing experience," said Damiya Critten, 18, vice president of the Keystone Club said in October after the bill received approval by an Assembly committee. "We formulated something by grouping together and now it is making an impact."

The Senate version of the legislation remains pending in committee, and we urge its swift passage to keep the bill on the fast track to the governor's desk.