Bill would require suicide prevention training in schools

Monitor staff
Published: 3/29/2019 2:02:55 PM

In the spring of 2014, the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Council conducted a survey asking school districts whether they provided suicide prevention training to faculty and staff.

Some 71 districts responded, and the council found that the vast majority – about 80 percent – had no policy regarding such training, said Ken Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

However, most of those school districts indicated they’d be interested in developing a policy and offering suicide prevention training in their schools.

Five years later, a Senate bill seeks to require all school districts and charter public schools in the state to develop a policy and provide training to faculty, staff and designated school volunteers on suicide prevention.

The bill, SB 282, passed the state Senate with unanimous support March 14 and moves on to the House, where a public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. The state Department of Education estimates local school districts will have to spend about $25,000 each to meet the requirements of the new law. If the state offers its own training at no expense to school districts, it could cost up to $1.1 million, the department estimates. The bill contains no funding.

Some school districts have implemented suicide prevention training without a statewide requirement. Exeter High School has been offering the training to all new staff members for years and the Concord School District planned to train every one of its professional staff members in the NAMI NH Connect suicide prevention program this year.

Norton and other mental health advocates have been pushing for mandatory training for years. Gov. Chris Sununu added to the momentum when he highlighted a similar bill in his inaugural address in January.

That bill, known as the Jason Flatt Act, would require “every teacher, supervisor and administrator in the public schools” to undergo at least two hours of training in suicide awareness and prevention each year. Senate Bill 282 extends the training outlined in the Jason Flatt Act to more school employees as well as students.

“We know peers are more apt to tell a peer if they’re thinking about suicide than they would necessarily tell an adult,” Norton said. “We’re talking about training them to recognize the importance and bring that information to an adult.”

The tragedy of losing a student to suicide can cripple a school community. Part of the training described in these bills includes how to respond when a student dies by suicide.

SAU 24 Assistant Superintendent Jacqueline Coe was beginning her career in education in the Kearsarge school district in the late 1990s when two students died by suicide.

“We didn’t know how to talk about it,” she said. “The issue is the same today, but districts who have engaged in this conversation are in a much better place now. Everyone is a gatekeeper in recognizing the signs, and it’s important for each staff member to understand that they can have these conversations.”

On April 9, SAU 24 is hosting a presentation on suicide awareness at Weare Middle School at 6 p.m. The event is open to the entire SAU 24 community, which includes Henniker, Weare and Stoddard.

New Hampshire has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country. It is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

A story in Thursday’s Monitor reported that Headrest, the only 24-hour crisis hotline in the state, has seen a 50-percent increase in suicide calls over the last eight months.

The bills have garnered bipartisan support in both chambers. During discussion before the vote on March 14, Sen. Tom Sherman of Rye said the more people are trained to see the signs of suicide, the more likely it can be prevented.

“This is about all of us ... having comprehensive training to recognize the warning signs of depression and suicide,” Sherman said. “(Suicide) is treatable, and the only way to treat it is to prevent it.”

If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. For additional resources, visit NAMI New Hampshire’s Connect Program at theconnectprogram.org.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)


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