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Timberlake, Speight & Verrelli Bill to Establish Mental Illness Resource Hotline Passes Committee

With nearly one in five U.S. adults living with mental illness, including more than 933,000 in New Jersey alone, Assembly Democrats Britnee N. Timberlake, Shanique Speight and Anthony Verrelli have sponsored legislation to establish a Mental Illness Resource Hotline and improve the services of other hotlines throughout the state. The bill (A-1847) recently passed the Assembly Human Services Committee.

The hotline would be staffed 24 hours a day by counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals. The legislation was created alongside Ian Miller, a member of the Essex County Mental Health Advisory Board, to eliminate the stigmas that exist when considering the management of one’s mental health.

Although the state already has various mental health-related hotlines, the aim of this particular hotline would be to connect callers with the resources they need to address their particular mental health crisis and everyday challenges. This hotline is for any and every one; it is a resource for all.

“Mental illness does not discriminate by age, gender, socioeconomic status, cultural background or any other identifier. We all need a support system in place, and this hotline will serve as a resource to deal with life’s challenges,” said Assemblywoman Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic). “We see the need for mental health resources day in and day out when we hear news of mass shootings and other societal ills. Parents can struggle with postpartum depression, grief from a tragic miscarriage or stress related to raising their child; professionals struggle with the challenges of work and finances; children and adults alike can deal with the loss of a parent or other family member; students can face bullying, academic pressure and more. So many people can benefit from mental health support, and establishing this hotline will provide the help they need while changing the way we think of mental health.”

The staff would come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and include counselors who can speak both English and Spanish.

“Every individual’s situation is unique, and they need to be able to find someone who can help make sense of what they’re looking for in terms of mental health support,” said Assemblywoman Speight (D-Essex). “Having someone on the other side of the phone who is willing to listen and help can make all the difference.”

In addition to the creation of this hotline, the bill would also require the Commissioner of Human Services to develop a system that enables the staff of any New Jersey health or human services-related hotline to forward callers to the appropriate resources if they are unable to provide relevant support.

“Someone struggling with substance use disorder, suicidal thoughts, depression and more may not always know the right number to call in order to get the help they need,” said Assemblyman Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Any hotline operator who does not specialize in the topic someone is calling about should be able to provide them with the appropriate resource to fit the situation.”

The bill will now go to the Speaker for further consideration.