Metro Weekly

Bowser signs youth suicide prevention bill into law

School staff will be required to receive continuing education and training on youth suicide issues

Muriel Bowser (Photo: American Federation of Government Employees, via Wikimedia).
Muriel Bowser (Photo: American Federation of Government Employees, via Wikimedia).

Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into law a bill that requires teachers and administrators to receive ongoing training on the warning signs and risk factors for youth suicide and how to implement best practices to help prevent it.

The Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Amendment Act, sponsored by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large), was passed unanimously by the Council earlier this month. Under the bill’s provisions, teachers, staff and principals will receive ongoing training on youth suicide issues once every two years so they can best recognize students at increased risk of suicide and take steps to prevent them from attempting to take their lives. Among the “at-risk youth sub-groups” referenced in the bill as being at higher risk of attempting suicide are those with mental illness, use illicit substances, are homeless or identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender or questioning.

“This law represents a major step forward in the effort to reduce suicide risk among our students, particularly our most vulnerable populations,” Todd Savage, president of the National Association of School Psychologists, said in a statement. “The specificity and comprehensive nature of the guidance required, coupled with mandated training for all school staff every two years, will significantly strengthen DC Public School’s ability to provide effective suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention strategies.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly 15 percent of all students aged 11-17 had contemplated suicide at some point, with statistics more than doubling for students aged 11-13 who identify as LGBTQ. With Bowser’s signature, D.C. becomes the first jurisdiction in the nation to pass a suicide prevention law that explicitly aims to protect LGBT students.

“Under current D.C. law, it is mandatory for teachers and school administrators to identify students who have unmet behavioral health needs and refer them to appropriate services,” John Madigan, vice president of public policy for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), said in a statement praising the D.C. government’s actions. “With this new law, now they will also have the tools to recognize the warning signs and risk factors for suicide and implement best practices for suicide prevention, suicide intervention, and suicide postvention. This is especially important in protecting our nation’s most important resource — our children.”

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