(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Carmelo G. Garcia, Raj Mukherji, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Charles Mainor, Tim Eustace and Gabriela Mosquera to help empower minors to seek treatment for mental illness and emotional disorders received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor's desk.
"This bill takes into account the fears and stigmas associated with mental illness, particularly for young people," said Garcia (D-Hudson). "Hopefully by creating a more private means for them to seek treatment we can drastically improve and ultimately save lives. I'm grateful to the young men and women of the Hudson County Boys and Girls Club who prompted me to sponsor this legislation."
The bill (A-3435) is designated as the "Boys & Girls Clubs Keystone Law" in honor of the members of the Keystone Club of the Hudson County Boys & Girls Clubs who were concerned about suicide and self harm among teenagers.
"It's inspiring to see the young men and women of the Hudson County Boys & Girls Club concerned with the welfare of their peers," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "They understand, firsthand, what it's like dealing with these hurdles as teens. This legislation will allow teens in need to seek mental health treatment and, hopefully, aid in preventing suicides."
Specifically, the bill would amend current law to permit a minor to give consent for behavioral health care for the treatment of mental illness or emotional disorders.
"Research has shown that one of the greatest barriers to mental health treatment for teens is stigma," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Millions of young people forego treatment every year because of this. Hopefully this bill will help them overcome that and seek the much-needed help they deserve."
The bill provides that the minor's consent to treatment under the supervision of a physician, an individual licensed to provide professional counseling, including, but not limited to, a psychiatrist, licensed practicing psychologist, certified social worker, licensed clinical social worker, licensed social worker, licensed marriage and family therapist, certified psychoanalyst, licensed psychologist or licensed clinical social worker, or in a health care facility would be valid and binding as if the minor were an adult.
"Social acceptance plays a huge role in the lives of teens," said Mainor (D-Hudson). "If they're afraid to talk to a parent or guardian about any mental health issues or emotional disorders they might be experiencing then they may never seek the treatment they need. This bill can change all that."
Additionally, under the bill, the treatment would be considered confidential information between the physician, the individual who is licensed to provide professional counseling, or the health care facility, as appropriate, and the patient.
"Breaking down cultural 'norms' and overcoming stigma is hard at any age, but can feel impossible as a teen," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "By granting them the same measure of privacy afforded to adults, hopefully we can help them overcome whatever fears they may have to seek the treatment they need."
"Every teen wants their privacy protected and to be treated as an adult," said Mosquera (D-Camden, Gloucester). "Providing these basic considerations for a New Jersey teen that may potentially need help with mental health issues is crucial to ensuring that our youth receive the help they truly deserve. With this bill, we remove the stigma related to mental illness and emotional illness for our youth and create a direct path to education, treatment and healing."
The provisions of the bill are similar to those which already permit a minor to consent to treatment for venereal disease, HIV, AIDS, sexual assault, or drug or alcohol abuse.
The bill was approved 59-10-4 by the Assembly, and 32-0 by the Senate in May.