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Two New Jersey bills designed to help prevent college suicides have taken an important step in moving toward passage in the state Senate. The bills — named after former College freshman Madison Holleran, who committed suicide in January 2014 — could be passed as early as this year.

The two bills, the Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention and Proper Reporting acts (S.B. 2808 and 2809, respectively), gained the state Senate Higher Education Committee’s approval on June 18 and will now move to the state Senate as a whole.

The Suicide Prevention Act would compel colleges to maintain health care professionals who have training on mental health issues. These counselors would be available to students around the clock, every day of the week. Schools would be required to inform students of the contact information and location of the professionals — who would work with faculty to help reduce student suicides — within 15 days of the start of the academic year.

The Proper Reporting Act, which would take effect during the 2016-17 school year, would require colleges to publish the number of students who committed or attempted suicide in the previous year on their websites. Both of these bills are up for debate within the New Jersey State Legislature and therefore, if passed, would only affect colleges and universities in New Jersey.

Suicides are the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Penn has been no exception, with seven student suicides in the past two years. It has taken steps in the past year to address the issue, creating a mental health task force and making changes based on its recommendations, including a 24/7 help line run by trained staff.

“We can never fully know what Madison and her family have been through, and it’s impossible to make sense of her tragedy, but through glimpses of her triumphs and tribulations shared by family and friends, we can make sure her tragedy will save others,” state Sen.  Kevin O’Toole, who sponsored the bills, said in a statement on his website.

According to his Chief of Staff Al Barlas, O’Toole drafted the bills after hearing about Holleran’s suicide and working with her family and their community, which he represents, as well as colleges to craft the legislation.

“His number one priority [is] to make sure we have the resources available to any student and help every student battle and cope with whatever internal issues they’re having that are leading to these types of thoughts,” Barlas said. “That’s an immediate thing that he wants available to every student, because that will have the greatest and most profound and hopefully immediate impact.”

Barlas said that the accompanying reporting act will help officials identify schools with higher numbers of suicides and attempted suicides so they can work with them to identify and solve the problems on their campuses.

“That’s to help students and parents and the state as a whole from a public policy perspective address issues in institutions,” Barlas said. “If you have a higher number [of suicides] in one institution versus another, then perhaps we need to focus on that one institution to figure out what’s going on there — is it something with the environment? Is it something with the culture? You don’t know, so it’s to fix that over the long term,” he said.

Jim Holleran, Madison Holleran’s father, said in an interview with the Associated Press that he supports the legislation’s goal of providing greater resources for students struggling with mental health issues.

“We feel there's a real need there for students that might be feeling the same thing as Madison and not knowing where to go to get help,” Jim Holleran said.

The Madison Holleran Foundation did not respond to the Daily Pennsylvanian's requests for comment. 

According to Barlas, O’Toole hopes to have the bills passed by the end of this year. In his statement, O’Toole said that he believes that the legislation will make a positive impact on efforts to prevent student suicides.

“Despite the terrible sadness we still feel, and will continue to feel, about losing Madison, I am hopeful that when we swiftly enact this legislation, fellow parents will be reassured that powerful suicide prevention and awareness programs are right around the corner,” O’Toole said.

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