BY: Citizens Count
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the leading cause of death for New Hampshire residents age 15 through 19. Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that 16% of New Hampshire high schoolers seriously consider suicide and 6% have attempted suicide.
Lawmakers are considering several approaches to fight teen suicide through schools in the Granite State.
Mandatory teacher training
One bill, HB 652, would require every public-school teacher and administrator to receive two hours of annual training in suicide awareness and prevention. The training must also be available to other school employees – such as bus drivers – and students.
Known as the Jason Flatt Act after a young man who died by suicide in 1997, similar laws have passed in 20 states.
The House passed HB 652, and it now heads to the Senate.
According to the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, only about half of schools offer suicide prevention training. Supporters argue this training could be incorporated into existing continuing education programs.
Some opponents argue attention should be focused on training parents, not teachers.
Other opponents argue schools should take a more comprehensive approach.
More comprehensive programs
SB 282 requires each school district and charter school to implement “a coordinated plan to prevent, assess the risk of, intervene in, and respond to suicide.” That plan must include training for faculty, staff, and volunteers every three years related to youth suicide.
SB 282 also includes an immunity provision that makes clear no one can sue a school over how it implements this law.
Supporters argue SB 282 will more effectively prevent suicide than HB 652 because it requires a comprehensive plan in each school to address youth suicide.
Opponents are concerned about costs. The Department of Education estimates that costs will vary depending on what programs each school already has in place, but a school without any program is looking at a cost of about $25,000.
Studying the issue
HB 131 would establish a commission of teachers, administrators, officials, and health care professionals to develop and promote mental health programs in the schools. The commission would report their findings and recommend legislation twice a year.
Supporters argue the commission will guide thoughtful, evidence-based programming.
Opponents argue the Bureau of Student Wellness within the Department of Education already fulfills this purpose.
HB 131 passed the House and is now under consideration in the Senate.
The Senate is also considering SB 281, a bill that would provide $400,000 to a nonprofit community mental health center to provide school crisis response and prevention services to schools in Rockingham County. If successful, this program could be a model for all counties in the state.
Supporters argue there needs to be more coordination between mental health providers and schools in order to address the mental health needs of students. SB 281 would enable immediate contact with mental health professionals when a student shows signs of distress.
Opponents hesitate over the $400,000 price tag for a program that will only be offered in one county. There are many other mental health programs competing for funding this budget year.
How do you think New Hampshire schools can fight the high rate of teen suicide?
Students from Souhegan High School working with the Granite State News Collaborative have been covering this issue. Read their story.
What stories or information would you share with them? What steps do you think schools, communities or the state could take to prevent teen suicide? Comment to weigh in.