New Jersey's 13th Legislative District

Senator Declan O'Scanlon

Senator Declan O'Scanlon

O’Scanlon: Suicide is the ‘Other’ Epidemic that Needs a Hard Look

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Praises Health Committee for Advancing Legislation to Create a Central Council to Examine Scope of Problem in N.J.

Senator Declan O’Scanlon is advocating for the swift passage of his legislation aimed at studying and reducing suicides in New Jersey.

Senator O’Scanlon’s legislation that would strengthen the state’s capability to study, analyze and prevent suicide was advanced today by the Senate Health Committee. (Flickr)

“New Jersey loses nearly 800 people a year to suicide,” said O’Scanlon (R-13). “Suicide is a tragedy, but the scattershot way the state deals with suicide monitoring and prevention is a tragedy itself.  For decades the bureaucracy dealing with suicide treatment and prevention has grown and split and morphed into a veritable mess of silos, none of which effectively communicate with each other. The time to change this system is now.”

“I often say this, but we can’t improve what we don’t measure. We need a nucleus for all the information we’re collecting, and these various groups need to all get on the same page,” O’Scanlon said. “Furthermore, we are likely missing out on federal dollars and resources due to our haphazard way of addressing this problem. This legislation is a big step in the right direction.”

Nationally, September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness month. Under the current system there are at least 7 different programs in various departments of State government studying suicide.

“We collect information on police suicide, veteran suicide, student suicide, college student suicide, youth suicide generally, senior citizen suicide, suicide by train jumpers, and I am pretty sure I am missing one or two,” O’Scanlon said. “These groups are collecting good information that does not identify victims or their families and could be used to help better direct resources and efforts to groups that are most at risk. We need to ensure these groups are communicating and examining the same basic data points.”

The need for this legislation, S-606, was first brought to Senator O’Scanlon’s attention by former Monmouth Assemblywoman and current mental health professional, Mary Pat Angelini, who has tirelessly advocated for better resources to address New Jersey’s suicide rates.

“This legislation will enable New Jersey to better clinically study suicide and assess what resources are needed and available,” said O’Scanlon. “It may also help strengthen applications for federal grants.

“COVID will leave the public with mental health scars for years. People lost loved ones, were economically ruined, and essential workers were, and continue to be, put under mind-boggling strain. When the 2008 recession happened, we saw a substantial increase in suicide in the years ahead. This is much worse and mental health experts are raising alarm bells now,” the Senator continued.

“We must recognize this and be prepared to act when we see an uptick in the suicide rate. The Legislature should get ahead of this problem now, and to do so, we need to examine suicide across the life spectrum; not just any one specific demographic.”

O’Scanlon’s legislation will create a new suicide council that essentially serves as an umbrella to all the existing suicide prevention and data collection efforts already existing in State government. The various existing councils focus on very specific demographics, but currently have no ability to aggregate and share basic information and resources with other groups. The intent of the legislation is to ensure that the various entities operating in the different departments of State government take a uniform approach to analyzing the problem.

“I’d like to thank the senate Health Committee for unanimously advancing this important piece of legislation. I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their robust support, and urge both Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin to put this to a floor vote as soon as possible,” O’Scanlon concluded.

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