Suicide prevention measure advances

Genesee lawmaker sponsored bill that draws wide support

By WILLIAM L. SPENCE, Lewiston Tribune

BOISE - A bill that helps advance suicide prevention training in Idaho schools received the unanimous and enthusiastic support of the House Education Committee on Tuesday. "This is probably one of the most important bills of the entire session, quite honestly," said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d'Alene. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, directs the State Board of Education to work with the Department of Health and Welfare and suicide experts to develop suicide awareness and prevention training material for local school districts. "This bill focuses on 'gatekeeper' training," Troy said. "It's not just for teachers, but for lunchroom personnel, the janitors, bus drivers - anyone who interacts with students. For those schools that have been touched by suicide, I think there's a desperation to learn how to recognize the signs." Annika Klein, a sophomore at the College of Idaho, said she's alive today because a high school teacher took the time to ask how she was doing. "I was a suicidal teen," she said. "I lost all motivation after losing someone close. Out of my seven teachers, one noticed the changes in me. He called my parents and voiced his concerns. I'm so thankful he did." Her other teachers weren't uncaring, Klein said. They just didn't recognize the signs. "He did because he went through it with his own child," she said. Troy, who serves on the Idaho Suicide Prevention Council, noted that Idaho typically ranks in the Top 10 nationally for per-capita suicide. It's an issue at virtually every level of society: Between 2012 and 2016, she said, 105 Idaho school kids committed suicide, including 27 younger than age 15. The state recently implemented a peer-to-peer suicide awareness and prevention program called Sources of Strength. However, it's only available in about two dozen school districts. "I've heard great things about the program, but it's not getting out there fast enough," Troy said. "In thinking about how to reach more districts quicker, we developed this bill." The training material developed or approved by the Board of Education can be made available to teachers, administrators and classified staff as part of their professional development activities or in-service training programs. Troy said she's also spoken with districts that want to include the material on their own websites as a community resource. The bill directs each public school district to adopt policies to address such issues as suicide prevention, intervention and counseling, so employees aren't left wondering what to do if they suspect a student is considering suicide. "This is a heartbreaking issue for a lot of administrators, teachers and staff," said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. No one testified in opposition to the bill. It now goes to the House floor for a vote.