Bill proposed by Merrimack teen would require eating disorder hotline on student ID cards 

By EILEEN O’GRADY

Monitor staff

Published: 03-01-2023 5:47 PM

One year after the Jason Dickey Act placed the Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number on student identification cards around the state, legislators are considering another bill that would add an eating disorder hotline as an additional resource.

The bill, which passed the New Hampshire House last week, would require the phone number for the National Eating Disorder Helpline to be printed on the ID cards of students in grades 6 to 12. The bill would not require existing ID cards to be re-printed, but would apply to all new or replacement cards issued after the effective date.

The bill is the brainchild of Matthew Brown, a 14-year-old freshman at Merrimack High School, who knows that eating disorders are an all-too-common problem for students in his age group. Brown decided to contact his state representative, Rep. Rosemarie Rung, a Merrimack Democrat, to recommend legislation that would put a resource, literally, in students’ back pockets.

“There are so many people, personally, that I know, who struggle with this issue,” Brown told legislators at a hearing in January. “This is an issue that isn’t talked about nearly as much as it should be, but it has to be. I think this bill will help to give those suffering a chance to just have a little bit of recognition.”

Legislators have officially dubbed the bill the “Matthew Brown Act.” Rung, the bill’s primary sponsor, said at a House session on Feb. 23 that the bill would give students access to resources that could be life-saving.

“By promoting the Eating Disorders Helpline on their school ID, students will have convenient access to connect to the early treatment they need to find a better, healthier path to a long future,” Rung said. “Knowing there is a helpline available is important to friends and family, who are often the ones to seek the help for their loved one.”

It's estimated that as many as 30 million people in the U.S. have an eating disorder, a category that includes a range of disorders such as anorexia, bulemia, binge eating, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder and more. A 2020 report from the eating disorder prevention research initiative STRIPED estimates that based on New Hampshire’s population, 9% of residents – 119,406 people – will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime.

The 2022 Jason Dickey Act, which requires student ID cards at all grade levels to have the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, paved the way for this . That bill, named for a Merrimack Valley High School grad who died by suicide in 2017, was signed into law last summer after it was suggested and championed by Dickey’s mother, Martha Dickey.

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In the discussion, some state representatives voiced the view that because the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is already on student ID cards, adding another number for eating disorders is unnecessary. But the bill’s supporters say the eating disorder helpline addresses a different need.

“Many of us know the helplessness in watching someone we care for continue down a self-destructive path before it ever gets to suicidal ideation, how that early intervention and treatment can turn things around,” Rung said.

People who are concerned about disordered eating habits can call the National Eating Disorder Helpline at (800) 931-2237 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.

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