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Featured Opinion Column: "Suicide Prevention Bill Gives Families Peace of Mind"
The Notes, May 2013
By Rep. Ellie Espling (R-New Gloucester)
There are rarely any bills before the state legislature that garner unanimous support. There are also, however, few issues as pressing as teen suicide prevention. A few weeks ago, the Maine House and Senate unanimously passed, and Governor Paul LePage immediately signed, a bill to train teachers to be able to detect the warning signs of suicide among teen students.
This commonsense measure to safeguard Maine's youth enjoyed the sponsorship of 103 members of both parties - over half the legislature.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death among Americans of all ages. Among 15-24 year olds, however, suicide is the third leading cause of death, accounting for 20 percent of deaths annually in that age group. According to a 2011 study, 16 percent of high school students have "seriously considered" attempting suicide within the past year, and half of those actually attempted it one or more times.
Imagine walking through your child's school and knowing that almost one in ten students you see will attempt suicide in the next year. This is a tragedy of epic proportions, and is perhaps one of the most preventable of them all. Sometimes, all it takes is for somebody to notice. All it takes is for somebody to get a teen to open up and talk.
The bill passed weeks ago, LD 609, "An Act To Increase Suicide Awareness and Prevention in Maine Public Schools," would require schools to train a small percentage of their staff to do just that. It reads, in part: "Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year for high schools and in the 2015-2016 school year for elementary and middle schools, a one-hour to 2-hour in-service training module in suicide prevention awareness must be completed by all school personnel."
There are many warning signs to be aware of. Changes to mood, diet, or sleeping patterns are often exhibited by those with suicidal thoughts. Additionally, substance abuse is a major indicator, with one-third of all suicides being attributable at least in part to alcohol abuse. It seems like common sense that teachers should be trained to perceive these tell-tale signs, but for whatever reason, suicide awareness has not been taught across the board to Maine teachers.
The bill further requires that at least two faculty members per school district be given even more advanced training in suicide prevention and intervention. The number of personnel to be trained in intervention is based on the size of the school district, with 14 personnel to be trained in the largest school districts of 7,501 or more.
A similar suicide intervention program is offered by the military, where it is known as "first aid" for those prone to suicide. Individuals are trained to listen and offer immediate intervention.
With all of the controversy and partisan flame-throwing swirling around the State House, I can't emphasize enough how elated I was that everybody was able to get together and reach unanimous agreement on this enormously important issue facing Maine schools and families. As the mother of four, I feel much better knowing that this training will be available to teachers.
No parent should have to bury a child. It's probably the worst thing that could happen in one's life. But with a little listening, a little intervention, and a little training, we can save lives. For me, if one life is saved or even one suicide attempt is averted, this program is well worth it.
Rep. Ellie Espling (R-New Gloucester) is serving her second term in the Maine House. She is active in cancer prevention efforts, town government, and in her local church.