A package of bills is working its way through the Statehouse aimed at reducing the amount of teen suicides, the third leading cause of death among teens in the state.

Nearly 700 people took their own lives in 2016 in New Jersey according to state data, with suicide a particular concern among teens.

One champion of these new proposals is Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., D-Burlington.

One proposal is to explore the use of cellphones and social media use on children in school. Conaway says teen suicides have been increasing over time and one thing we know that correlates with that is the increased use of smartphones and social media. The question is whether or not there's a link.

There are have been some reports and studies suggesting ties between social media use and depression, Conaway said.

A 15-member state commission would be tasked with exploring connection of suicide to use of electronic devices and social media use in schools.

They would also look into "the effect that this usage would have on their emotional health, whether or not there is a correlation between that usage and incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying or other destructive and violent behaviors we sometimes see in schools," Conaway said.

The panel would look at what impact cell phone use would have on exercise.  Exercise reduces stress and is important for mental health.

Another proposal would require schools to implement depression screenings for students in grades 7 through 12. Conaway says many kids are not diagnosed until they are adults. He recommends middle school children undergo depression screenings. There's a high prevalence of depression in adolescent and teen populations, says Conaway. Only half get diagnosed before reaching adulthood and don't get treatment.

He hopes this bill hopefully will get people on the path to treatment and getting the things they need for their mental health.

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